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‘Flexible working’: fashionable buzzword or fundamental business operation?

Can flexible working go a long way to fulfilling everyone’s personal and business goals?

Peter Dommett

As a business owner, one question that I am often asked is: ‘What are the main factors that might limit the growth of your company?’

Externally, there are the usual issues: downward pressure on hourly rates, reduced client budgets, environmental pressures on new drug development and licensing/reimbursement.

Internally, growing businesses need to ensure that robust processes are in place for client deliverables, and that these remain of the highest quality as new employees join. These are pivotal but very achievable goals, with a motivated and involved management and support team.

However, the biggest issues facing a growing agency have been those of recruitment of motivated qualified staff, and retention of
the same. Various factors have contributed

to this, including latest legislation and regulations, the exponential growth of healthcare communications in the last 20 years, leading to a paucity of good people, and changes in general environmental attitudes including work-life balance.

But how can flexible working help address these issues? At its best, established flexible working practices in a company can both increase the pool of applicants for vacancies as well as help retain
skilled and motivated existing staff.

‘Flexible working’ describes a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work. It may comprise various components, including most commonly:

  • ‘Flexitime’ – early or late starts/finishes, with a specific total number of hours
  • Working from home on a regular basis – working from home for a defined, or even undefined, amount of time
  • Part-time working – anything less than full–time hours
  • Term-time working – employee remains on a permanent contract but can take paid/unpaid leave during school holidays
  • Job-sharing – two (or occasionally more) people share responsibility for a job between them
  • Commissioned outcomes – no fixed hours, only an output target that an individual is working towards, to meet the  agreed objectives
  • Career breaks/sabbaticals – extended periods of leave (normally unpaid)
  • Unlimited holidays – unpaid after a statutory period.

Our industry is highly female-dominated (witness the dress/suit ratio at the Communiqué Awards for example!). There are various theories on why this is, including the fact that women make circa 80% of the healthcare decisions for their families and that good healthcare communications demands some of the ‘softer, empathetic’ skills traditionally associated with the ‘feminine’ side of people. But because there are gender and age differences in what motivates individual employees, flexible working ‘packages’ must reflect a range of different career/life choices. It is interesting to note that there is often a disparity between flexible options offered by employers and those taken up – circa 25-60% depending on individual circumstances. Which just serves to reinforce that one size does not fit all when it comes to flexible working practices.

Flexibility in how work blends with everything else in an employee’s life may be one of the main factors in whether that employee is truly happy and therefore motivated to stay. But what are the benefits to employers and clients? A flexible approach to working life can both increase employee engagement and loyalty and produce better performance, with obvious benefits for both employers and clients. Flexibility can also reduce absenteeism, again with universal benefits. Moreover, low staff turnover in an agency is arguably a great benefit to clients – continuity of support and accumulation of experience are significant benefits of engaging an agency with such employees.

Despite all the undoubted benefits, it should be remembered that allowing flexible working arrangements is a tangible demonstration of the trust that a company has in its employees – and it needs to be both earned and respected by all parties. Clients also need to appreciate the changing employment environment for agencies and ensure that their demands fall within what might be reasonably requested of all parties.

Finally, are there potential exclusions to flexible working? There are obvious professions that require dedicated time in the working environment, such as first-line medical professionals. But when it comes to healthcare communications no such restrictions are immediately apparent.

Ultimately if everyone’s personal objectives (and accountability) align with their company and client objectives, then flexible working can go a long way to fulfilling everyone’s personal and business goals.

The days of the workhouse are over!

In association with


4th October 2018

From: Marketing



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