In May, Totaljobs published a new report stating that 59% of employees view flexible working opportunities as the most important benefit when looking for a job, yet just 38% of employers currently offer them.
Totaljobs haven’t been the only ones reporting on the issue. The Modern Families Index also published a report last month following a survey of 2,700 UK working parents which found flexible working alone did not improve working parents’ quality of life, and that 81% of those who worked ‘flexibly’ still had to work evenings and weekends to keep up with ‘unrealistic’ workloads.
Whether it’s working from home, flexi-hours, part-time work or job sharing, we’re repeatedly told flexible working practices are beneficial for both employers and employees – but how, and are they practical?
While the working parents represented in the Modern Families Index might not agree, the work-life balance flexible working aims to provide, can lead to better health and well-being and increased motivation and engagement.
On the flip side, if they don’t have sufficient support, communication or interaction with colleagues, employees who work remotely can start to feel isolated and less engaged. Similarly, a number of employers claim the difficulty in managing a remote workforce is why they don’t offer home working options.
But with 38% of employees wanting to work from home and 28% saying they’d move jobs if they weren’t allowed to, it’s something employers need to give serious consideration to.
There can be a perception that flexible working will encourage people to slack off, but organisations who screen employees properly during the recruitment stage will be confident they can trust them to work remotely. They should even see productivity increase as a result.
A survey by Flexjobs found 66% of people believe they’d be more productive working from home and 19% of employers in the Totaljobs survey reported that their staff are happier and more productive doing so - although slightly more employees (21%) thought this was the case.
It’s easy to see why remote working appeals so much; with no commute to factor in, workers can begin their working days earlier, finish later, and experience less interruptions and distractions in between.
With the UK purportedly experiencing a ‘productivity crisis’, it’s clearly time for more employers to consider the options for remote working. What they should avoid, however, is inadvertently encouraging ‘over-working’ from home.
Despite a growth in the number of organisations offering flexible working, few job adverts promote the options available in their job descriptions. But being able to appeal to a variety of working styles is what will help them attract a wider number and quality of candidates.
It’s not just about getting them in though; to keep top talent engaged, flexible workers should be treated the same as all other employees. Yet another new study by Deloitte and Timewise found that 30% of workers who take up flexible hours feel they have less status and importance as a result. 25% of them also felt they’d missed out on professional opportunities because of their flexible working hours.
Ensuring employees are able to take advantage of flexible working opportunities can also help improve workplace equality and diversity. By removing the barriers that childcare, caring responsibilities and disability needs present, businesses can attract more people from underrepresented groups and increase the pool of talent they have to choose from.
There have even been claims that flexible working could end gender discrimination in the workplace and fix the much-debated gender pay gap. Karen Marrison, chief executive of Timewise is quoted as saying:
"The traditional workplace was designed for a family structure in which one person stayed at home and another went out to work. This is no longer the case for the majority of UK households. Employers need to catch up with the needs and aspirations of the modern workforce, or risk getting left behind."
Embracing non-traditional working practices can certainly help to reduce the disparity between women and men. But it needs to be done in conjunction with training staff, giving employees good role models and challenging gender stereotypes.
Generally, employees value work-life balance over and above money, so offering flexible working can shift the focus of any negotiation. And whilst it can cut down some office overheads, the added expense for employees working from home should also be considered when designing flexible working policies.
The benefits that flexible working brings to our changing workforce cannot be underestimated. With employees facing longer careers and increased caring responsibilities, their desire for flexible working opportunities is unlikely to waver, so it’s something that employers need to give serious thought to. To reap the full benefits, however, any flexible working policy must also look to improve job design, management and organisational culture at the same time.
Making flexible working work for you: