“A high degree of flexibility” is an increasingly more important requirement when recruiting new employees. This is particularly the case for public affairs positions, and has been reinforced in recent years. Committee meeting dates cannot be influenced, as agendas are typically set by regulators or by the rules governing key working bodies, and across their broader networks public affairs professionals need to adapt to the availability of their contacts to not miss out on engagement opportunities. For public affairs practitioners this essentially means being available 100% of the time – or at least, ensuring sufficient flexibility with regard to private life and personal commitments.
That said, while this “always available, if not always on” has been traditionally understood as a given for public affairs, we are increasingly seeing demands for better work/life balance arrangements that challenge what used to be par for the course. Post-Covid re-evaluations of possible and acceptable norms are meeting market conditions where talent demand exceeds supply, and candidates – or those exploring the option of a career change – can leverage their positions more critically and more demandingly.
As is the overall trend, salary and job security are only two of the various elements weighed on the scales when contemplating making a move to a different position, and work/life balance has become a markedly more important consideration in negotiations. Non-cash incentives – such as the option to work from home – have become a crucial factor, especially since Covid, but other arrangements such as the 4-day work week or tailored working hours are likewise gaining momentum.
Despite gaining traction in certain circles, for public affairs positions the 4-day work week is not an obvious choice, unless there can be variation in which days will apply and the total number of hours is spread out over a longer period, e.g. a month. When it comes to flexible working hours, there are a range of possibilities to consider: from a simple format where starting times and end times can shift, to more complex formats where agreements are made regarding objectives and results to be achieved independently of the specific timeframe during which the work needs to be done. The latter requires a high degree of autonomy and responsibility from the side of the employee and a high degree of trust from the side of the employers, but it allows for a factoring in of personal time when needed, without sacrificing objectives, tasks, and agreed milestones or targets set by timeframe or linked to key dates.
Part of our job at Mavence is to manage expectations, both for clients that are trying to attract candidates, and for candidates that are considering a career move. Depending on their personal situation, candidates will attach a different degree of importance to different aspects in the package and it is therefore imperative that all parties are clear on what is – and what is not – acceptable to them and the larger context of work needs and practices. Obviously, leadership types, skills, organisational cultures and structures also play a big role in how this particular aspect of the full offer is dealt with – but this only reinforces that these days, nothing can be taken for granted on either side.
As food for thought, and to get more insight into developments and expectations with regard to working hour arrangements to address work/life balance in public affairs positions, we invite you to share with us any views, considerations and experience you may have in this regard. What’s more, we would also welcome any insights into possible legal aspects pertaining to variations in working hours and working time agreements from an employment contractual perspective, as well as on leadership skills and the organisational structure required to enable, facilitate and manage working hour variations to optimize work/life balance in the public affairs domain.
Cynthia Fürste is a Director at Mavence and an independent consultant with over 20 years of public affairs experience.