Flexible working in libraries

Today the Government has made a commitment to flexible working and I am finally putting together the blog posts I have been working on for ages.

The pandemic has forced a lot of companies to let go of some of the control they have of their colleagues through presenteeism. It has also forced them to acknowledge their colleagues are not robots and have lives be it children, pets, hobbies and other demands. Academic Libraries are no exception to this. 

I have long believed that flexible working is essential to underpinning a service, gaining loyalty of colleagues through trust and understanding, ensuring things are fair and helping attract or retain good people who may otherwise be lost to the world of librarianship.

From a personal point of view I was first introduced to flexible working in my first role where the site manager created a culture of pure flexibility,if you worked over 37.5 hours you were entitled to claim it back as  flexi. People could control their working day as long as they were present for shifts on desks, teaching, meetings etc In the 9 years I was there the desk was never unmanned and nobody missed anything. It was all negotiated like adults and nobody got preferential treatment (although one colleague who went through a phase of always having the gasman come on a Friday did find they were asked some interesting questions). Everybody had their turn with the Friday afternoon shift or Monday morning or whatever grotty shift fitted their permanent work pattern. There was no resentment because people with children got to be flexible whilst everyone else slogged out the 9-5. Everybody was flexible. There were people who needed certain predictable work patterns, some for childcare, one for horse care, and some for parental care but nobody stood out because although more formal agreements they were actually not noticeable to everyone else because everyone else had the opportunity to leave early some time or come in late or take a long lunch. 

It was quite a rude awakening to discover most academic libraries weren’t so flexible or inclusive.

I am going to do a few posts on why flexibility is important, how to lead the change of culture as a manager and how it can work over the next week or so (baby wrangling permitting) but I will leave you with this from Liz Truss (yes that Liz Truss…) today.

“Our commitment to flexible working is based on our desire to open up employment opportunities to people regardless of their sex or location. The shift for many people to work from home during the pandemic has changed mindsets and now is a chance to seize the opportunity of making flexible working the norm, rather than something employees have to specially request.

“The fact is that for many jobs there are invisible restrictions that hold people back – like the need to live in high-cost accommodation close to the centre of cities or maintain working arrangements that are very hard to combine with family or other responsibilities.

“We now have the chance to break down these barriers and boost opportunities for everyone.”


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