Presenteeism is killing creative careers

A study by Timewise found that two in three part-time workers feel isolated, while one in four full-time workers would consider going part-time if it didn't affect career progression.

Flexible working: two in three part-time workers feel isolated
Flexible working: two in three part-time workers feel isolated

New research from Timewise revealed that part-time work remains a marketing challenge, with two in three part-time workers feeling isolated.

These employees often face a "career compromise", where they miss out on opportunities for training and career advancement because they work flexibly.

The study showed that one in four full-time workers would prefer to work part-time hours for a lower salary if it didn’t affect their career progression.

The "flexibility penalty" highlighted by the research is of particular concern for the creative industries, since a study from Creative Equals showed that just 9% of creatives have their best ideas in the office. So why is the culture of presenteeism so difficult to shake?

Karen Mattison, the founder of Timewise, says that creative businesses should have more imagination about how, where and how much we work: "The creative industries have a huge opportunity to rebrand how and where work is done. To unpack all the innovation to enable creative people to flourish.

She explains: "The '9 to 5' structure fitted a family structure in which one person focused on the home and the other was completely free to work whenever they wanted and develop their careers with a multitude of evening events. Once you accept that this traditional family structure doesn’t exist any more, you can see the need for change."

It is a shift that, Mattison emphasises, is about more than just women with children: "Many groups of people don’t want to work in this way any more; whether because they have longer commutes or need to go to the gym, the '9 to 5' culture is no longer fit for purpose."

Yet, despite this shift, Mattison believes that part-time working still suffers from a marketing problem. "Many businesses have a very negative vision of the opportunity of part-time working," she explains.

The cost of presenteeism

Timewise believes that embracing a new approach to work is vital to building positive cultures where employees can do their best work. "Culture is about businesses really asking how do we enable our best people to do their best work," Mattisson says. It's something that makes nailing flexible working a business priority for any company that sees its culture as core to its success. "Flexible working is one of those things that many businesses hoped would go away, when the fact is it has snowballed in importance and will continue to do so," Mattison adds.

The shift in employee expectations has particular relevance for the creative industries facing up to the challenge of consulting giants such as Accenture and PwC – businesses that have the structures and processes in place to make flexible working a reality for employees.

"For many businesses, flexible working is so much a part of 'business as usual' that the businesses who don’t get it simply won’t get the best talent," warns Mattison.

A driver of diversity

The growing conversation surrounding the future of work is particularly important in the creative industries, which are already struggling to reflect the diversity of the audiences they seek to connect with. "Women are leaving the industry because they still can’t get the flexibility they need and we have to ensure that businesses address that culture and not just pay lip service to change," says Mattison. "All the data points to high-trust cultures where employees have flexibility as a key driver of business success."

Yet, despite this, presenteeism remains a challenge in some parts of the creative industries. This was underlined by creative Nat Turton’s experience of having a job offer retracted after asking to leave the office three times a week at 5pm. 

In a bid to help tackle this challenge, Timewise is launching the PowerFlex Network – the UK’s first-ever cross-business network to support middle and senior management in part-time and flexible working.

Meanwhile, the nominations for the 2019 Timewise Power 50 awards, the organisation’s annual celebration of mid- to senior-level part-time and flexible workers, open for nominations today. The awards are supported by EY, Lloyds Banking Group, Dixon Carphone and Diageo.

The annual list has been key to demonstrating that flexible working and fulfilling creative careers are not mutually exclusive pursuits, as highlighted by the success of 2018's winners