Extra holiday through flexible working: how I make it work

Lee PhelandLee Phelan is a Senior Manager in EY’s Digital Audit Enablement division. Realising he wanted to spend more time with his partner, who is a teacher, he opted for a 90% contract, putting in five days a week for most of the year to store up extra time off in the school holidays. Here he shares his tips for getting and delivering a similar working pattern.

“My partner is an Assistant Teacher at a primary school, and gets 13 weeks holiday a year. I have to admit, I had always been a bit envious, but it didn’t occur to me to try and do something similar, especially as we don’t have children.

“But then I got talking to an Audit Partner who was on a 90% contract, and I realised that could be the key to getting more holiday. And knowing how flexible EY is, I felt completely comfortable raising it with HR and my managers. That was three years ago and I have been working this way ever since. I’ve moved roles during that time, taking my flexibility with me, and I’m now on the promotion track. So it certainly hasn’t held me back.

“I am paid 90% of a full-time equivalent salary, split evenly across the year. But instead of taking half a day off a week, I work five full days, and store up the extra time to take as full week blocks. It means I end up with 10 weeks off work a year, and the business has definitely benefitted too. Here’s my advice on how to make this kind of arrangement work.”

  1. Think about what you can afford and what your role allows

“Before you explore your options with your employer, it’s worth having an idea of how much less you’re looking to work, and whether you can afford the drop in salary.  It may not be as much as you think; I was surprised to discover that, once lower national insurance and tax payments were factored in, my 10% gross pay cut only left me with 5% less net pay.

“It’s also worth being clear in your mind about how you see your role working on a reduced-hours contract, and whether you will need to allocate any of it elsewhere. That way you’ll be prepared for any questions at the next stage.”

  1. Discuss the potential impact with all key stakeholders

“I definitely recommend taking the time to reassure your stakeholders that this new arrangement will work. I was in a client-facing role when I first moved to a 90% contract, so I made sure I talked it though with them, as well as with my direct team and Talent Partner.

“When you’re having these conversations, remember to focus on how this new arrangement could benefit them. For example, I’ve found that I am more focused as a result of the change, and that I feel extra energised due to taking more frequent breaks. I am definitely healthier both mentally and physically, and I’m certainly no less productive. All of which is as good for my clients and my team as it is for me.”

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

“Being open and honest about your arrangement is critical; it’s something I bring up early in any working relationship. And I always flag up any upcoming holidays at the beginning of any new project, just as a full-timer would. That means when we’re setting deadlines or building work plans, everyone knows the score, and can plan for a smooth delivery.

“By being so open about my work pattern, I’ve also encouraged others to consider it; two of my colleagues are now on reduced hours contracts, one at 90% and one at 80%. The more people feel comfortable talking about it, the more normal it becomes, and that benefits everyone.”

  1. Be disciplined and don’t overcompensate

“You may have more holiday than everyone else, but that doesn’t mean you have to let your work creep into your time off. So be tough with yourself and set clear boundaries.

“Similarly, don’t overcompensate when you are back at work. It’s easy to feel you have to be accommodating as a flexible worker, but if that means saying yes to things you can’t fit in, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. At a company like EY where flexible working is so widespread, this is less of a problem, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. So make sure you only agree to what you can realistically deliver – and never, ever apologise for working flexibly.”

  1. Remember, flexible working is for everyone

“I think a lot of people still categorise flexible working as a ‘parent thing’ – but the law says anyone can ask for it, and I’m proof that it’s possible. I hope it becomes even more common because it’s such a positive way to work.”

“So my final piece of advice is, whatever your circumstances, if you want to work flexibly, just go for it. And if your employer isn’t supportive, it may be time to make a move. It’s changed my life and I’ve never looked back.”

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