Richard Pringle enjoys his flexible working life. Alongside his day job as an adviser for Job Centre Plus, he is building up a personal training business which he hopes will one day become his primary source of income.
This dual role means the married 35-year-old regularly rises at the crack of dawn to put people through their paces as a strength and conditioning coach, before heading to the office for a seven-hour day. When that's over he returns to teaching and following his own training regime.
"I have opted for flexible working because it gives me the best of both worlds," he says. "It gives me the financial security you get from a regular job as well as the opportunity to set up a business in an industry that I am passionate about."
Richard, from Hastings, East Sussex, set up RP Combat Conditioning in January after encouragement from the mixed martial arts fighters that he trained. As well as a sports science degree, he has an advanced personal training diploma and is Reps registered (Register of Exercise Professionals).
"My selling point is that I use fighter training methods to help people achieve individual goals, with the emphasis being that you don't have to be a fighter to train like one," he says.
He has just launched a dedicated website – www.rpcombatconditioning.co.uk – to promote his brand, runs regular classes at the Fighting Tigers Gym, and advises people on what he refers to as "real world fitness", which includes information on nutrition and functional strength.
It's all part of his plan to become fully self-employed at some stage in the not-too-distant future, and keeping in salaried employment until that stage is the perfect way to keep the money coming in while building up his business on the side.
"Financial security is something that is quite rare, and my job at JCP has enabled me to allow my business to grow naturally without the financial pressures of a new business start-up," he says. "As the RP Combat Conditioning business develops I can hopefully reduce my hours to suit."
What is flexible working?
It's the term given to any working pattern that is designed to an individual's needs and covers part-time, flexitime, job-sharing, variable shift patterns, annualised hours, compressed hours, and term-time working.
Over the past decade it has become one of the key workplace trends, fuelled by the demands of a 24/7 society, changing priorities of employees that want to spend more quality time with their families, and technological advances such as high-speed internet connections and mobile phones.
At present, one in five full-time workers and one in four part-timers have some form of flexible work pattern, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), with the closest comparison with the 1950s being the 12 per cent of people who worked a shift system.
The good news is that the vast majority of businesses – 96 per cent – offer some sort of flexible working, according to a CIPD study. It reveals that three-quarters of employees make use of some form of flexible working, with around a third working part-time. In addition, a quarter use some sort of flexitime and a fifth work from home on a regular basis.
However, it also points out that more can be done to increase the number of businesses embracing flexible working, and to explain to individuals what is available.
Entitlement to flexible working
The concept of flexible working has also been helped by legislation, with the right to request flexible working having been introduced back in 2003 for parents of children under six (or under 18 in the case of a disabled child). Since then the scope of the permission has been gradually enlarged.
It can now be applied for by those with children under the age of 17 (or under 18 if disabled), and although proposals to extend this to all employees went for consultation last year, the Government is yet to make any announcement on its plans.
Of course, anyone can ask their employer for more flexible work arrangements, but this law provides some employees with the statutory right to make a request. Legally, your employer must seriously consider your application and only reject it for sound business reasons.
Currently an applicant must be an employee (not an agency worker or in the armed forces), have worked for the employer for 26 weeks continuously, and not made a similar application under this right during the past 12 months.
If they meet these requirements, they can make a request if they have – or expect to have – parental responsibility of a child aged under 17 or a disabled child under 18 who receives disability living allowance (DLA); are a carer looking after an adult who is a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative, or who, although not related to them, lives at the same address.
Would flexible working benefit you?
There are pros and cons of flexible working. The benefits are striking a better work-life balance and seeing more of your family. For the thousands that rise at the crack of dawn to catch trains into London, not returning until darkness falls, this may sound like a faraway dream.
For those working part-time as they develop their own business plans, there's the added bonus of having a financial safety net in place while their plans take shape.
On the downside, working flexibly may mean being excluded from the office banter. This, of course, can be more acute for those working from home, who may also have to battle all manner of distractions.
Making it work financially
Depending on the nature of the flexible working arrangement agreed, there is the chance that it could have a detrimental impact on the family finances. Therefore, you need to think carefully about how much money you need to make, says Justin Modray, founder of website Candid Money.
"Quality of life can sometimes come at the cost of lower income," he says. "If working for yourself or for a company where job security is in doubt, then build up a rainy day fund, so you're not destitute if work dries up. And, if you will be taking a pay cut, then adjust your household expenditure."
You will also need to be prepared to play a more active role in the handling of your tax affairs if you go self-employed – or budget for the cost of employing an accountant to do it for you. "If you're paid gross you should keep money you'll eventually have to pay HMRC in a separate saving account out of temptation's way, and try to remain financially disciplined," he adds.
Whether a flexible working arrangement will suit your needs depends on your circumstances and longer-term goals. Richard Pringle, for example, certainly has no regrets about his job flexibility, and advises others with similar dreams to follow suite.
"If you have a passion for something and are thinking about starting up as a business, flexible working is a great way to test the waters, and should the business grow to be successful, pursuing it full time will be an obvious and natural choice."
Flexible working what forms does it take?
Part-time: Putting in fewer hours than the standard working week.
Flexitime: Allows you to vary your hours, even though you will usually have to work for a core period each day for an expected amount of time.
Job sharing: Where a position is split. For example, one person might do the mornings while the other covers afternoons.
Term-time working: People work on a full- or part-time basis during the school term and take unpaid leave in the holidays; as well as school hours working, which enables you to drop off/pick up children.
Compressed hours: Working the same number of hours but fitting them into fewer days.
Annualised hours: When people work a specified number of hours, and a pattern of working, over a 12-month period, as determined by the needs of the business.
National Work-Life week
Working Families, the work-life balance organisation, is organising its national week – from 24 to 28 September – which aims to throw the spotlight on the benefits of flexible arrangements.
This year's event will feature an official Go Home on Time Day – Wednesday 26 September – to make the point that while working late is sometimes needed, it shouldn't become the norm.
To find out more visit the organisation's website: www.workingfamilies.org.uk