You would think that by now the case for flexible working had been well and truly won. After all, it has been two years since the Government introduced new legislation requiring employers to seriously consider requests for flexibility from all staff with more than 26 weeks service.
There’s clearly been a shift in practice on the ground. Research from the TUC suggests that more than 1.5 million employees regularly work from home, while figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that for 5.3 million workers, part-time work is a positive choice rather than an enforced decision.
Even though the law may have changed, and some high profile companies have publicly embraced the concept, attitudes across the wider corporate world haven’t necessarily followed suit. There’s still a perception that senior roles can’t really be done on a part-time, flexible basis (despite evidence to the contrary from companies like Facebook, British Airways and IBM) – and that home workers are probably sitting on the sofa in their fluffy slippers watching Jeremy Kyle.
Part of the problem is that in many organisations, flexible working is a bit of a dirty secret. It’s happening widely and successfully, thanks to informal arrangements agreed between managers and their teams, but it’s not encouraged or promoted as a core business policy. Changes in the world of work – driven by technology, geography and demographic trends – are rapidly making this an untenable situation. If organisations want to get ahead, they need to stop pushing flexible working underground and bring it out into the open.
Here are five reasons why your business needs to embrace the concept of flexibility:
1. It makes sound business sense
Taking a more flexible approach to the way work is organised has a direct effect on the bottom line. It helps companies attract (and hang on to) talented employees and allows them to pull from a much wider pool of talent. It allows them to provide a more flexible, responsive service to customers too. It’s no use having staff working in a rigid 9-5 operation when you’re operating in a 24/7 environment and dealing with increasingly demanding customers across geographical boundaries and time zones.
2. It will help you attract the best talent
The recent Hire Me My Way campaign, (being run by recruitment agency Timewise and supported by the Family and Childcare Trust), points out that the way we advertise jobs hasn’t caught up with flexible working practice on the ground: only one in ten jobs advertised with flexible or part-time options. This cuts out a huge swathe of potential candidates, who are not clear about whether the role on offer is flexible or not – and as a result, will probably decide not to apply. Forward-looking employers can put themselves in a position to grab the best talent by changing the way they advertise roles and by having up-front conversations with recruits at interview stage.
3. It will improve employee engagement
As any manager will tell you, if an employee is offered the flexibility they need, they will repay the business ten times over in terms of loyalty, enthusiasm and commitment to their role. It sends a message to staff that the company regards them as a person, rather than just a number, and acknowledges that they have a life outside work. It’s important to recognise that flexibility is no longer just about meeting the needs of people with childcare responsibilities. People want flexibility for a whole host of reasons – they may be maintaining a portfolio career, learning new skills or devoting time to voluntary work for example.
4. It meets the needs of millennials
Generation Y are playing an increasingly important role in the workplace – and as all the research has shown, they have a very different approach to both work and life. As we enter the age of the ‘gig’ economy – these key employees will be increasingly looking to their employer to provide more flexible ways of working. They will expect, for example, to be able to take advantage of technology that means they can work any time, anywhere and will want the flexibility to move seamlessly from project to project rather than following a conventional career path. Work-life balance, and the ability to ‘make a difference’ , is also hugely important to this cohort, who often want more flexible working arrangements to enable them to pursue other interests.
5. It will help to retain older workers
At the other end of the scale, employers also need to respond to the needs of older, ‘Baby Boomer’ workers, who thanks to demographic trends will be working longer and playing an increasingly important role in the workplace. In a recent research report, the CIPD points out that this group is key to the labour market, but often face enormous challenges balancing work with elder care responsibilities. Caring responsibilities are often the real cause behind ‘sickness absence’ among this group. People often feel uncomfortable talking about their situation and fear that opening up will affect their job prospects. Employers need to look at how they can foster open cultures where staff feel supported and how they can find ways of arranging work that allow people to balance their career with their caring responsibilities.