Extensions to flexible working rights coming into force today will not apply to partners but could nevertheless help end the ‘long-hours culture’ prevalent in many firms, experts have suggested.
The Flexible Working Regulations require employers to consider reasonable requests for flexible working. Previously employees had this right only if they had children under the age of 17.
Camilla Palmer, founder of Your Employment Settlement Service, said the changes will not make a formal difference to partners as they do not count as employees.
But she said the changes are likely to have a positive impact on the working culture in firms: ‘Those who work part-time – which usually involves what many would think were full-time hours – are often not seen as “partnership material” as they “lack commitment”; this is a stereotype commonly associated with mothers that needs challenging from top to bottom,’ she said.
‘The lack of gender balance at partnership level is undoubtedly fuelled by this long-hours culture.’
But she said firms should be leading the way in flexible working. ‘Lawyers are measured mainly by their billable hours and targets and these are easily measured.’ Therefore, an output-driven assessment of performance makes sense, she said.
Around 23% of women go on to become partners – a figure that drops to below 20% for City firms, according to research by the Chambers Student Guide.
Suzanne Gill (pictured), partner at London firm Wedlake Bell, also welcomed the move as helping to embed flexible working within firms. ‘This could help change the culture from flexible working being seen as something just women ask for,’ she said.
However she added that the change could create some HR issues for smaller firms lacking the resources to cope with the immediate impact.