Three female construction professionals reflect on the trials, tribulations, rewards and pitfalls of flexible working arrangements

Flexible working is bit of a dream for many caught in the vice of the nine-to-five working day. The idea of being able adapt your working hours to take account of other commitments in your life holds obvious appeal for workers. It can have beneficial effects for companies as well, particularly if it means they can hold on to valued members of staff, or that those staff acquire extra skills by working with a complementary organisation.

Below, three construction professionals relate their experiences. These profiles have been gathered by the CIC Equal Opportunities Panel. Other work by the panel includes the production of a careers video, Building Visions – Creative Careers in the Construction Professions. Clips can be viewed on the website at

Evie Bissell, council technical officer

Having been restricted by a very inflexible timetable when I was a teacher, the appeal of my present job for the London borough of Richmond was that it enabled me to achieve some kind of balance between home life and work. The job at the council came up unexpectedly and it fitted in with my arrangements for collecting children after school – my regular working hours are nine to three, Monday to Thursday.

I have to be very organised – teaching was definitely a good foundation for forward planning – but I am able to attend school functions, the children’s medicals, and so on as my boss is aware of my home commitments and understands my need for flexibility.

My six-hour days are value for money

My six-hour days are value for money, not just because my salary is meagre for the amount of work I cover, but also because I don’t stop for a lunch (I eat at my desk) and don’t have breaks. I do feel a responsibility to get through the work in a shorter time. If I’m not collecting children after work, I work longer or start earlier . Also when the office is particularly busy, I come in on Fridays – I worked most Fridays in 2003.

Additional hours are paid out at the normal rate – this would be more expensive if an agency person were employed.

Elizabeth King, divisional director, Mott MacDonald

My initial reason for wanting flexible arrangements was so that I could spend more time with my two daughters (aged 10 and 12). However, as the children get older, I value having a couple of hours at home on my own as a buffer zone for “home and family management” activities that are difficult to squeeze in when you’re working full time.

I have no reason to believe that my career won’t continue to develop

I work three full days and two five-hour days, which enables me to leave work in time to collect the children from school. This means that I get all the immediate “after school chatter” that has usually evaporated within an hour of coming out of school (as any parent will know!). I can also move my time off around to suit family commitments, such as a parents’ evening or a child’s doctor’s appointment. This means that my leave doesn’t dwindle away too quickly.

The benefits to my employer include having a senior member of staff with a happy work–life balance who is less likely to move jobs. It also means that they have been able to retain a female technical employee, which helps with the sex balance in a male-dominated engineering firm. They seem to be happy with the arrangement. Since I’ve been working part-time I’ve been promoted through associate and have been a divisional director for five-and-a-half years. I now manage a team of 35 and have no reason to believe that my career won’t continue to develop.

Of course, there are disadvantages, too. Sometimes I’m not at work when people want to contact me. But hey, I’m out of the office a lot anyway – it’s simply a case of being organised, thinking ahead and making sure that your colleagues know where you are, when you’ll be back and how to contact you if need be.

Colleagues tend not to appreciate that I have a full life during my time off and I can’t always move my days around at short notice.

Caroline Steenberg, town planner

I work two-and-a-half days in a research post at Kingston University, and two-and-a-half days in a job-share post in the policy and research section of my local planning authority. I have some flexibility, which enables me to swap things round should I have to attend meetings for the “other” job.

Two half jobs equal more than one whole job. There are two sets of stresses, two diaries to organise, more professional journals and paper work to keep up with, more admin and different email and software packages. A high degree of organisation and a clear head is therefore vital.

There are many disadvantages to this type of working arrangement: promotion chances are curtailed and I’m “out of the loop” when not in at each workplace, so good communication is vital. It can be hell if both jobs are busy, as people don’t necessarily realise that your week’s work has to be done in two-and-a-half days. Perhaps of most concern, the Inland Revenue doesn’t seem able to get to grips with the concept and always charges me too much tax.

Two half jobs equal more than one whole job

However, there are advantages too, both for me and my employer. I get to work in two different environments, meeting and getting to know two sets of colleagues. The cultures of the jobs feed into the other and I feel I can bring a different perspective to each.

My employer also benefits from the fact that I feel a responsibility to do the work in a shorter time. Because of my age, background, education and experience, I feel that, even if I may be out of the office for a couple of days, I bring something unique to the tasks given to me.