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Flexible jobs in inflexible industries

Kim Inam, a PR and ex-journalist shares her experience of getting the right flexible work in an inflexible industry.

Kim worked as a news editor at a local newspaper when she had her first child. As she moved from journalism into PR, Kim had an insight into two industries; one that should be set up for flexible working but not adapting and one which is traditionally not particularly flexible, offering more choice to their employees.

Tell us about your journey into flexible work

I worked at a local newspaper in London when I had my first child and I loved it. But there were some parts of it that were no longer working for me. Such as hanging around outside a celebrity’s house in case someone was home. And then after the financial crash, there simply weren’t the journalism jobs available any more.

I wanted more out of my career and had a family to support so I made the move into PR.

And how did you find working in PR with children?

In one of my PR positions I had an incredibly supportive boss. She actively encouraged me to go part-time after my second child and was incredibly supportive of this. She made sure I wasn’t working extra hours and if I did, then I was remunerated for this. She was effectively a mentor. She’s a cheerleader for me and understands what I want to achieve. And this is important because it really helps.

In the interview for my current job, the panel asked me what this person would say about me and I told them that she would say I am amazing and they should give me the job.

Have all your workplaces supported your flexible working needs?

I’d been in PR for a while when I started work on a 15-month contract at an organisation. It was advertised as a full-time role and I’d negotiated a 4-day week with them. Only it ended up not being four days of work. I’d work an extra two to three hours an evening to fit everything in and I realised that what I was doing was putting five days worth of work into four. Then it all fell apart on a project I was working on because I was working overcapacity. There was simply not enough hours to do everything.

During this time I hit rock bottom and completely lost my confidence. It took me a while to realise that it wasn’t my work but the environment I was in.

Even the Director thought I was employed to work full-time because I was doing an extra days’ worth of work.

So I walked away from the job. I told them not to renew my contract as I needed to work at a company that had a better work culture.

How do you think businesses can support flexible working?

It needs to be established in the culture. Something that comes from the top of the organisation that leaders can demonstrate. Because if flexible working is only reserved for those of us who have children then it isn’t going to really work. Managers need to recognise that if someone is working on a big project, it might be beneficial to work from home to concentrate. As we all know, the office can be quite distracting. And if it comes from the top then everyone feels comfortable doing it.

Where I work now, there is no explanation needed for why someone is working from home. It is just accepted. The irony is that I’d lost my confidence in being able to work a 4-day week after my bad experience and so the job was never advertised as flexible. But the organisation as a whole is incredibly positive in promoting flexible working, they have embraced it in their culture and that makes a difference.

Do you think there are some industries that cannot support flexible work?

In PR you do need to be quite reactive at times and if you are doing crisis management then you need to be available. But if there are systems in place then it is possible to have flexible work around it.

You can see it in the culture of the organisation. At the time when I had my bad experience, the entire business was run on borrowed time, working off the goodwill of employees to work beyond their working day. That’s not sustainable and you can see it in the turnover of staff.

Then take journalism. Lots of people work freelance to have a flexible career but I found I struggled with the time to work and build the network you need to sustain the freelance income. It is completely down to the organisation to support flexible working and to make it part of the whole culture. Industries can adapt to new ways of working.

Thank you Kim!

If you're looking for flexible work then check out our curated list of flexible roles here or if you'd like to put in a flexible working request in your current role, see our guidance here.

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