“I was sacked for asking for a flexible job – now I help other people find them”

With Flexible Working changes coming into effect soon, Flexa cofounder Molly Johnson-Jones explains her extremely personal business backstory.

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I believe that everyone should be able to access genuinely flexible work, and make sure that my own team can work wherever and whenever they want. As the CEO of a company that helps workers discover flexible roles and companies, this is unlikely to come as a surprise. But after getting fired for asking to work from home, I will never take the flexibility I have now for granted. 

Horrible Bosses

Since the age of 18, I have lived with an autoimmune immune condition that can cause me pain and leave me unable to walk at times. My symptoms hit their worst when I was working in a demanding investment banking role. And whilst this didn’t stop me from working, it did make commuting into an office five days a week incredibly difficult. 

My employer at the time claimed to be open to flexible working requests. So I asked to work from home roughly one day a week, on the occasions that my symptoms flared up. My employer’s initial response was to send me to an occupational health therapist, who recommended that I register as disabled to protect me from discrimination. But it was too late. 

Within just ten days of filing my flexible working request, I was fired. A settlement package was put in front of me and I was told to leave immediately. I was crushed. Sitting on a bench outside my office, I cried and wished that I had pushed through instead of asking to work from home. I was far from ready to be plunged into the murky world of job hunting that came next. 

Putting “how” before “what”

Looking for new roles, all I wanted was to know where I could work from home one day a week. If only it was as simple at the time as it sounded. Job adverts sometimes made vague references to flexible work, or being ‘open’ to flexible working requests, but it was nigh on impossible to decipher what exactly this entailed, or whether companies’ claims were genuine. I had already been burnt once. I was about to be burned many more times. 

I found myself in jobs where I was made to feel uncomfortable for asking to work differently, in jobs where flexible working requests were only granted in line with staff tenure, or circumstances which employers deemed to be ‘exceptional’, and in jobs where I was alienated when I did work beyond the office walls. And, although they weren’t all bad, it didn’t get any easier to tell a genuinely flexible employer apart from ‘fake flexibility’. I began thinking that there had to be a better way of searching for roles based on ‘how’ individuals want to work – not just based on ‘what’ individuals want to work as. 

I knew I wasn’t alone in my need for flexible work, and a more transparent way of finding it. Countless other workers with disabilities or different health needs rely on being able to work from home, in more accessible environments, or around different hours. This group is only growing in number.

Right now, record numbers of people are unable to work due to long-term illness. Workers with caring responsibilities are also often reliant on being able to fit work around school runs, or around caring for sick and elderly relatives. And the current childcare crisis means that parents need flexibility more than ever. Then there are workers who simply prefer non-traditional working environments. My cofounder, Maurice, is one of them. 

Dare to be different

Maurice had been running a team of people who were all able to work flexibly, and could see the difference it made to him and his team members. Maurice saw how giving staff the freedom to start and finish work earlier or later, and avoid stressful commutes, improved individual’s work-life balance and performance, and boosted overall retention rates. If Maurice himself was going to move, he wanted to know that his next role would give him the same level of freedom and flexibility. We both needed assurance on this front, and we both found that it simply didn’t exist. 

To answer to that need, Maurice and I created Flexa in 2019 alongside our third cofounder and CTO, Tim Leppard. We haven’t looked back since. 

Flexa vets and verifies companies’ flexible working policies to create transparency for job seekers about exactly what’s on offer. Our job is to champion truly flexible workplaces, and help job seekers discover them. Both sides are ever-growing in number. Today, we are helping to build some of the world’s biggest employer brands – like Mars, Virgin Media O2, TUI Group, Not On The High Street, Huel, CoppaFeel, and Elvie – and connecting them to over 1.5 million flexible job seekers using the platform.

Brave new flexible world

It’s clear that demand for flexible work isn’t going anywhere. Nor is the need for transparency around flexibility. New flexible working regulations, which come into force next month, will give employees the right to request flexible working arrangements from their first day of employment. But employers won’t have to accommodate flexible working requests. This doesn’t bode well. According to a major new study, 3 in 10 women in the public sector have their flexible working requests turned down. 

The issues I experienced are still very much alive today. And in a world of work where every company will technically be ‘open’ to flexible working requests, job seekers need more clarity more than ever. But it’s not just job seekers that benefit from being able to identify companies that can accommodate their working needs and preferences upfront. 

More transparent ways of job hunting benefit everyone.  And the part I am able to play in helping to create that transparency for job seekers today is why I no longer regret asking for flexibility when I did. 

Molly Johnson-Jones - Cofounder and CEO of Flexa

Frustrated with the lack of clarity over whether a job would offer flexibility or not, Johnson-Jones created Flexa to help people find truly flexible work, and help forward-thinking companies to stand out from the crowd.

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