Have you ever considered that there might be another way to work? In October 2015, a YouGov survey revealed that the majority of British people (56%) would choose to work seven-hour days, rather than the 8.6-hour days they typically take on over a five day period. One year later, the media raved about a Swedish trend of six-hour days, with full-time workloads completed in a reduced timescale (say goodbye to epically long meetings). Liverpool’s Agent Marketing spent a year trialling the six-hour day and spoke to BBC Breakfast about the results in early January.

 

Technology and marketing companies are early adopters of flexi-time, particularly those in start-up hubs like Codebase in Edinburgh. However, major banks increasingly provide compressed hours, too. Barclays has a Dynamic Working Initiative, whilst Santander and NatWest have similar policies. And they don’t just accommodate working parents, but everyone who performs better outside the 9-5.

Other companies let staff work from home regularly, which comes with pros and cons. If you’re frequently distracted by office ‘banter’, solitude is a relief; the lack of commute is also a bonus. On the other hand, you need to be disciplined and demonstrate you’re actually completing tasks, not watching This Morning in your pyjamas.

“I like to work from home once a week,” says Kat Leishman, a project manager from London. “The role I have, working in an open-plan office and being everyone’s go-to person, means I spend a lot of my time being reactive, and the proactive work or day-to-day tasks can fall by the wayside. “I can still choose to engage, take calls and dip into conversations from home, but it makes a difference having my own space – and peace and quiet.”

“Companies need to have a creative, flexible approach,” says Liz Walker, HR Director at Unum, which specialises in employee benefits. “Working from 8:30am-6pm is an old-fashioned approach. Flexible working consistently comes up as the most appreciated and valued benefit for employees, and it brings more diversity and inclusion into a company.” If a company puts flexibility in the job description, don’t forget to ask for details, as it may only translate to occasionally leaving at 4pm on a Friday. The British Library has one of the best flexible policies, open to all staff since 2014. Options include compressing a 36-hour role to four days.

Alternative leave schemes are also gaining attention. One Bristol-based company, Coexist, hit the headlines last March for its ‘period policy’. It sounds patronising, but anyone plagued by heavy periods would appreciate time off (imagine being punched in the stomach whilst simultaneously feeling nauseous, grumpy, emotional and anaemic, for several days. Every month. Such fun). Other organisations provide paid leave on your birthday, or sabbaticals after a year’s service.

Brighton-based software and app developer Ocasta offers half-day ‘pawternity’ leave for anyone rehoming a rescue pet. Its benefits scheme also includes flexible hours and a ‘personal improvement’ budget. Ben Collier, Director at Ocasta, explains: “One of our team is working on a side-project in his spare time; we obviously get the benefit of his upskilling through the personal improvement budget, but we’d also encourage people to learn to drive or play the piano. “The ‘pawternity’ leave was tongue-in-cheek, but we offer shared parental leave, and I know not everyone is interested in having children.”

So why do we need such initiatives? We’re in a recession, but millennials are confident job-hoppers and masters of reinvention – a 2016 survey by Monster.co.uk and YouGov found 26% of millennials planned to quit their job in the next six months. This leaves employers struggling to retain good employees, especially if their team is stressed and unfulfilled. Faced with a soulless, stressful employer and a human, friendly one with added benefits, which would you pick?

“It used to be working parents needing flexible hours, but now you’ve got millennials wanting balance,” says Liz Walker. “They value life outside work.” Of course, this craving for balance is encouraged by the booming wellness industry. Companies tied to long hours could offer lunchtime yoga or meditation sessions, running clubs or subsidised food as alternatives.

Want more room to manoeuvre? Job share opportunities are now on the rise: the Civil Service even has its own dedicated job sharing website for workers willing to team up, by matching two sharers with similar skills. It shouldn’t harm long-term goals, either – HR Magazine noted nearly 1/5 of those in the senior employee ‘Power Part Time’ list shared their job.

Childcare responsibilities aren’t the only motivator; maybe you’re studying part-time, launching an Etsy emporium or a freelance consultancy, but using a regular part-time income to fund it. A job share lets you safely multi-task. Whatever your work goals, you’ve never been in a better position to negotiate flexible hours and build a schedule that fits your lifestyle.