Jenny King, Managing Director
Traditionally flexible working tended to be either part time or variable start times. 9 in 10 people in the UK now want to work flexibly according to recent research. Demand spans both gender and generations driven by a variety of personal reasons. 54% of UK workers are already working flexibly in some way and more than half the workforce (55%) would like to work flexibly in at least one form that is not currently available to them. (CIPD, 2019)
As the option to flex is fast becoming an expectation from prospective employees rather than a nice to have is it time for hiring managers to think again around flexible working options?
Over time the scope of what we mean by flexible working has extended beyond part time to cover:
- Flexi time
- Compressed working hours
- Annual hours
- Working from home
- Mobile working
- Variable start and finish times
- Term Times
Perceived barriers to flexible working
A survey of just under 2,000 professionals working in the UK, (Timewise 2017) found the biggest perceived barriers to flexible working include outdated workplace cultures and attitudes that perpetuate the “flexibility stigma”, and reveals a fear of challenging the status quo.
- 30% felt they were regarded as having less status because they work flexibly
- 25% felt they were given access to fewer opportunities and have missed out on promotion
- 17% felt unable to ask for flexible working because colleagues don’t work flexibly
It’s clear that even when leaders want to accommodate the flexible working needs of their employees – and even encourage it – there is a gap between what is said at the top and how that translates to everyday working life.
Managers can create barriers when implementing flexible working because of fears and concerns about managing a flexible worker and lack of control or concern that they lack the capability to ‘measure’ work and output. If there are too many requests to accommodate it’s easier to say no to everyone
Benefits of flexible working
Commonly cited organisation benefits of increasing flexibility include:
- addressing skills shortages
- attracting and retaining talent and supporting diversity
- improving employee job satisfaction and loyalty
- supporting well-being
- enabling organisations to be more agile and responsive to change
Employees who work flexibly report higher levels of productivity and engagement. Personal benefits include reduced commuting costs, freeing up constraints to their work life balance and ability to continue working alongside carer responsibilities.
Moving towards a more flexible workplace
Be clear on the business rationale and expected benefits.
For some employers, this is about attraction, recruitment, and retention: being seen as an employer of choice in a competitive market or overcoming industry skills shortages. For others, diversity and inclusion is a more compelling reason to adopt flexible working.
Communication is vital for promoting uptake of flexible working and needs to happen in both formal and informal ways. Senior role modeling is key to encouraging a new approach Workshops for managers can allow for concerns to be aired and handled. Sharing success stories can help alleviate concerns over ideas such as job sharing and myths around flexible working being mainly for women.
‘There is not as much acceptance around men [working flexibly] and men themselves will often be in denial. I’ve known men who will pretend to be going to a meeting. Actually they are going to pick the kids up.’ CIPD 2019
With the overall benefits appearing to outweigh any problems associated with flexible working and 9 out of 10 workers preferring their working day to be outside the traditional 9 to 5 day; it’s time for a fresh look at flexible working and to think more holistically about the way work is organised and managed in the future.
With over 25 years’ experience in human resources and leadership in the Not for Profit sector, Iroko Consulting work with clients to develop collaborative and motivated workplaces.