How to avoid 'fake flexibility' when you're looking for a new job

With The Great Resignation still in full swing, workplaces are scrambling to reel in new hires.

A big part of this will be offering flexible working, as that’s such a key desire for workers after the changes brought on by Covid.

But what does the offer of flexible working actually mean in practice? And how can you tell if a company is genuinely keen on promoting workplace wellbeing, or will couple their promises of a four-day week with excessively long working hours to make up for that day off?

Molly Johnson-Jones is the CEO of Flexa, and a flexible working expert. She predicts that ‘fake flexibility’ is going to be a real trend across job listings, as businesses try to lure in talent.

Ahead, she provides five tips for spotting fake flexibility when you’re on the job hunt – so you can steer clear.

Look out for vague promises

‘If the company you’re looking at boasts of a flexible working environment on their website or job descriptions, but doesn’t provide specific details, it’s a red flag,’ Molly tells

‘Vague promises of “hybrid working” or flexible “options” aren’t very helpful. Candidates need to know exactly what’s on offer without having to ask.

‘Good companies will be super clear. For example, they might say they are remote first, but have an office which is available to use for those who want it. Or they might have core hours where the whole team needs to be working – say 11am-3pm – but the other hours are up to the individual.

‘Details are king when it comes to flexibility, so be careful not to be taken in by glossy marketing and woolly promises.’

If you do apply for a role that mentions flexible working in passing, make sure to ask for the details in your interview. What exactly is on offer? What will your workweek and workday look like? How flexible is flexible?

If you have to earn your benefits, run

If a workplace is really about the wellbeing of their staff and truly believes in the benefits of flexible working, they won’t make you jump through hoops before you’re ‘allowed’ this perk.

Molly says: ‘A classic sign of “fake flexibility” is when staff have to work towards accessing certain benefits.

‘I come across lots of companies where team members who have been there for a while are able to work from abroad a few weeks a year, or unlock some extra days of annual leave.’

Watch out for having to request flexibility

Workplaces have to consider flexible working requests… but they don’t have to say yes.

Be wary of workplaces that say flexibility is on offer, but has to be requested.

Molly notes: “By request” set-ups prevent people from accessing flexibility as you’re expected to justify why you need it, and are at risk of getting turned down.

‘True flexibility should be based on trust from day one. People shouldn’t have to earn the trust of their employers – it’s the cornerstone of remote or hybrid working.

‘So beware the bosses who make you prove yourself before letting you access different ways of working.’

Check if managers practice what they preach

It’s all well and good to say that people can work from home as they choose and leave on time… but will there be unspoken expectations? Are senior people still piling in and working overtime as part of the workplace culture?

‘The best way of spotting whether companies are committed to flexible working is if senior leaders practice what they preach,’ says Molly. ‘Does the company allow you to work from home whenever you want, but managers are in the office every day? This is a clear warning sign.

‘Companies who get it right take a top down approach. If your manager has clear boundaries and is candid about their own personal needs, it creates a culture where everyone is empowered to work in the way that’s right for them, regardless of their level of seniority.

‘Ask your interviewer how they prefer to work and how they keep their team connected – their answer will be illuminating.’

Don’t be too charmed by rigid offers of ‘flexibility’

‘Very few companies are mandating that staff return to the office full-time, but far too many are replacing this with a similarly rigid approach,’ Molly says. ‘Flexible working is about so much more than being able to work from home on a Friday. Or working from home but being chained to your desk from 9am-6pm, unable to leave your laptop.

‘If the business you’re considering working for doesn’t offer much in the way of individual choice, then it’s not true flexibility.

‘While some structure can be helpful and even necessary (especially if you’re working in a team) progressive employers will give you a working environment that enables choice.

‘They might mean flexi-time, benefits for working parents, support for those with caring responsibilities, or the option to work from anywhere in the world. It will depend on the company, and that’s why it’s vital to shop around to find what’s right for you.

‘Genuine flexibility is about personal empowerment and individual choice within a framework. Without it, people can’t bring their best selves to work.’

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