Can I work flexibly?

Question: I am a 3 year PQE (male) corporate associate at a ‘silver circle’ firm, and would like to start working four days a week so that I can work at a charity for the homeless the other day. What is the best way to ask to work flexibly? And what if they turn me down? Who would have me? Everyone who works flexibly seems to be a woman with children.

Answer: From a legal point of view, there is nothing your firm can realistically do to stop you working flexibly, if you are feeling in a combative mood, as you could claim sex discrimination if they refuse your request. The firm could reasonably argue that your request does not fit with the needs of the business, and there, they may have a point.

In a transactional discipline, such as corporate, it is often difficult to juggle the needs of the client and the needs of the employee, and it may cause difficulty and resentment in other members of the team who feel they are always filling in for you. So, firms are often reluctant to take on part-timers except in well-trodden areas (eg PSL) and some non-transactional disciplines, where working flexibly is easier.

Without wishing to be unduly gloomy, think also about where you want your career to go. As admirable as your wish may be, it is likely to kybosh – probably permanently – your chances of partnership.

Working part-time where it’s not deemed to be strictly ‘necessary’ betokens a lack of commitment to your career which will weigh against you. Perhaps think of a way you can meet your need to do some good with assuring your livelihood (work for the charity every other Saturday, perhaps, or after hours?).

Mark Brandon, recruitment consultant, First Counsel

Answer: Given the transactional nature of a corporate role, it unlikely that this is will be a realistic possibility. From time to time you do hear of corporate associates working on a ‘part-time’ (i.e. a four day week) basis but this is generally in smaller firms and even then, in most cases, they never really have their ‘day off’ and are invariably on their phone or Blackberry working.

So, while you can ask and while your firm may make a genuine effort to make this happen for you, you may find that you are not able to make the level of commitment to your charity work that you would like to.

If you are serious about undertaking a part-time role, it may be worth you considering a professional support (PSL) position. While there is generally a corresponding pay cut involved in taking on such a role, there is much more scope for your role to be genuinely part-time.

Kristi Edwards is a consultant at Hughes-Castell

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