Uptake in flexible working is flatlining, but it's widely acknowledged that it benefits both the business and the employee. How can businesses ensure more staff get the flexibility they need?
In June 2014, the Government introduced legislation that granted every employee in the UK the right to request flexible working providing they have accrued 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer.
This legislation doesn’t grant employees the right to work flexibly as employers can reasonably turn down the request, but it was introduced with the intention of making it easier for people to get the flexibility they need.
It was supposed to be the start of a new revolution in the way we balance our working and personal lives, but has it made any kind of lasting impact?
Unfortunately, not. A new report on flexible working from the CIPD has found that the number of UK employees who have a flexible working agreement in place hasn’t risen since 2010.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t working flexibly at all as the report does show that more people are using informal arrangements such as sporadically working from home. However, it does indicate that flexibility hasn’t become normal practice even though it’s one of the most desirable perks a job can have.
A 2017 survey on flexible working by Ten2Two found that 83% of employers feel flexible working has benefited their business, but if you’ve yet to be convinced here are some of the perks you can enjoy.
Employees who work flexibly stay longer
If your staff can work in a pattern that lets them keep their commitments outside of work and keep on top of their workload, they’re far more likely to stick around.
The juggling act of working plus looking after kids or other family members or simply just trying to have a full social life can take its toll on us all and being able to work even just a little bit more flexibly can take some of the pressure off.
Stress is a valid and common reason for employees deciding to move elsewhere. Helping your staff feel like they’ve got more control over their schedule, both inside and outside of work, will reduce this particular stress and ensure they feel more content in their role.
It also shows your staff that you care about their well-being. Too often business fails to acknowledge that the people who work for them have lives outside of work. Allowing flexibility for outside commitments demonstrates that you don’t see staff as cogs in the machine which builds mutual trust and respect - both of which are very good qualities for retaining talented staff.
Employees who work flexibly are more productive
Yes, we know productivity can be a bit of a tricky beast to measure but it is generally accepted that happy staff are more productive staff.
We’ve already talked about how stress can make people want to leave, but it can also have a big impact on productivity. Stress saps our motivation, affects our concentration and can bring down our immunity leading to a rise in sick leave - all of which is a recipe for low productivity.
As we said before, giving your staff more choice and control over their work pattern can ease stress which will have an impact on performance. Flexible working can also help combat issues like lateness as staff can choose to start earlier if they want to beat the morning rush or come in slightly later if they need to fit in the school run before work.
Plus, surveys on flexible working have found that it is a motivator for staff to be more productive. HSBC found that 89% of flexibly working employees said that it motivated them to work harder. Similarly, a study by Canada Life Group found that 77% of employees working flexibly said that it had improved their productivity.
Offering flexible working attracts diverse candidates
Flexible working allows those who can’t commit to a rigid full-time 9-5 working pattern the opportunity to work in a role that matches their skill level.
Traditionally, those looking for part-time work have limited choices as most part-time jobs advertised are in lower skilled roles in hospitality or retail. This means that highly qualified people who can’t work 9 to 5 are either working in role that they’re over qualified for or excluded from the workforce altogether.
This problem disproportionally affects mothers who want to return to work after having children but can’t work full-time as they need to be available for childcare. A lack of flexible working in senior roles has been a huge contributing factor to the gender pay gap, but it’s not just women that are affected.
Those with disabilities or medical conditions that make working full-time challenging need flexible working arrangements to be able to take on employment. The same can be said of people who have caring responsibilities for elderly or sick relatives.
Having family commitments or health issues has no bearing on an individual’s ability to do a great job yet not advertising vacancies as open to flexible working can exclude these talented individuals entirely.
Showing up front that you’re open to flexible working arrangements will enable to attract applications from a wider pool of talent - giving you much more choice and ensuring you’re not putting off the right person for the job.
How can you make it easier for staff to work flexibly?
The first and arguably the simplest thing you can do is make it clear in your job ad that you’re open to discussing flexible working arrangements. If you have an established scheme such as flexi-time, add this into your section on employee benefits - it’s hugely attractive so don’t hide it away!
You can also download the ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ strapline from Working Families to place in your adverts and on your website. This shows that you’re at least willing to have a conversation about alternative working patterns.
“By encouraging many more jobs to be advertised as flexible as the default option, the task force is challenging outdated attitudes to flexible working that still prevail in some organisations, and laying down a marker for other employers to follow”.
- Peter Cheese, CEO, CIPD
The next thing you can do is work to get rid of any outdated attitudes towards flexible working that are still lingering around within your organisation. This can include the assumption that people who work flexibly don’t work as hard or are getting preferential treatment over other members of staff.
You should make it clear that you’re open to everyone’s requests and will accommodate them where possible. Good communication is the key here, so you should actively promote flexible working within your organisation to increase uptake and make it the norm rather than a special privilege.
You can also review the senior roles within your organisation and assess their suitability for flexible arrangements. If you’re looking to promote staff from within into senior roles you shouldn’t assume that anyone working on a part-time or flexible pattern isn’t interested in more responsibility. You should trust that your staff know their own capabilities and how much they can take on.
Interested in learning more about flexible working? Read all about the pros & cons of a 4-day working week.