The flexible working stigma… and how to avoid it

Flexible working dramatically increased during the pandemic. Now, more companies are embracing the idea that employees do not need to be chained to a desk between 9-5 pm to do a good job. Yet, despite its rising popularity, flexible working is still frowned upon by some. Here, we look at what is meant by the recently coined ‘flexibility stigma’ and explain what to do to avoid it.

DOLLY PARTON sang it best:

Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living
…It’s all taking and no giving

Despite that song being over 40 years old, a perception still exists that those not at their desk during office hours contribute less. This way of thinking isn’t just archaic, it is entirely false.

One particular study found that employees who worked flexibly put in almost four hours more overtime than standard office workers. The researchers found that this was because those working flexibly were aware of the associated stigma and felt the need to counter it by working more hours. In other words, they felt compelled to show they were as productive as those who work in the office full time.

Studies repeatedly show that employees who work flexible hours are more productive, happier, engaged, take fewer sick days, feel more valued, believe they get more done and report better job satisfaction. With this in mind, why does ‘flexibility stigma’ still exist?



Dangers associated with flexibility bias

Ultimately, flexibility stigma stems from a significant lack of trust between an employer and its employees. It is the perception that people need to be visible at work. Interestingly, this perception has created a needlessly destructive office culture. With what is called ‘presenteeism’, work becomes more performative. It encourages people to come into the office early and stay well after their contractual hours end. Presenteeism means being seen. Working longer hours. Portraying and communicating dedication. Presenteeism is not results-focused. Nor is it about being productive.

A sexist structure

There is another critical reason why flexibility stigma is so harmful: it creates structural sexism. Women have been fighting a losing battle in the workplace due to ancient beliefs, maternity leave, the gender pay gap and child-rearing duties, to name but a few. Flexible working can help level the economic playing field. But, flexibility stigma drives women out of the office.

Breaking down flexibility stigma

Employers must recognise just how valuable flexible work is for employees and employers. Among younger people, working flexibly is seen as a necessity rather than a perk. Many candidates now expect flexible working options from employers and will make essential job decisions based on a company’s opinion towards it. Many consider this type of flexibility more important than a pay increase.

To stay relevant, it therefore makes sense for companies who want to attract the best candidates to build more open, more trusting cultures.

Why Setfords encourages flexible working

The good news is that the number of employers with a more progressive attitude towards flexible working appears to be growing. Setfords goes even further than those that do not stigmatise flexible working. Here, we proactively encourage it.

Setfords is a relatively young company. Set up in 2006, it has grown up in an increasingly tech-savvy world. A world in which people work, socialise, shop and are entertained online. During this period, many entrepreneurs were starting businesses while still at university. Or in their free time from their day jobs. They worked out of their parents’ garage, spare bedroom or internet-connected cafés.

This no-fixed-office, no-fixed-hours context was therefore completely normal to Setfords’ relatively young founders.

As Guy, the firm’s co-founder, puts it:

“Setfords was founded on the premise that happier lawyers mean happier clients.”

This means giving consultants the freedom they need to do their best work. Unsurprisingly, this translates to an award-winning firm with the well-being of its team at its core.

Get in touch to find out more about becoming a consultant solicitor with Setfords. If we’re a good fit, you’ll enjoy working in a flexibility-stigma-free zone.

Call us on 0330 058 4011 or email


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Lawyers who become consultants at Setfords earn more money, experience less office politics, and enjoy a better-work life balance. The next consultant could be you. So get in touch today and take the next step towards a happier life.

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        This allows us to send you the information you need to know about consultancy

        This enables us to get in touch and discuss life as a Setfords consultant

        Currently, we can only work with lawyers qualified under one of these regulatory bodies