Flexible Working Research
Tina.Freed / 18 Aug 2015
The world today is a very different place from just 10 years ago, when the typical workplace filled up at nine in the morning and emptied at 5.30pm like clockwork. As the demands and expectations of our 24/7 consumer culture grow, the UK is moving towards a fully flexible future, with organisations increasingly recognising the benefits of working more flexibly for both staff and their bottom line.
Technology has been a huge driver of this change. Virtual meeting software, high-speed broadband and mobile networks help us to engage with work flexibly. Increasingly work is becoming something you can do at any time.
Once seen as something only for Mothers or primary carers, flexible working is steadily becoming the norm across the board. Gender is no longer a decisive factor and the number of men working flexibly is on the rise. The full-time workforce splits at a ratio of 2:1 male to female, and the part-time workforce splits 1:3 male to female. However, this imbalance is steadily declining, with more men taking up part-time and flexible working, indicating a real change in how flexible roles are viewed.
The nine to five is no longer the default option for UK business. It’s becoming increasingly acceptable, and beneficial, to implement more complex working patterns and reap the returns that they bring for both employers and their staff.
Adoption of Flexible Working
The increase in flexible working goes hand in hand with the realisation that management focus on productivity and performance is much more important than counting hours in the office. Managers who evaluate success through what has been achieved and, crucially, who share those achievements and successes with their colleagues across the business, will help to proactively raise awareness of the mutual benefits of flexible working.
Not all jobs naturally fit into the five days a week, eight hours a day model. At job creation and recruitment stages, HR departments are now creating roles that reflect the work those jobs entail. Structuring roles in this way allows employers to target a fast-growing part-time talent pool. The steady increase, particularly among male employees, in people working part-time and in job shares, indicates that the desire for this work is there.
Types of Flexible Working Formats.
In an Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM’s) survey, flexible working was described as ‘a set of practices which give employees flexibility on how long, where and when they work.’ Drawing on the FT Lexicon, they asked respondents whether or not their organisation used:
1. Offsite working (e.g. working from home)
2. Flexible hours (e.g. working different hours within agreed parameters, taking ‘time off in lieu’, working compressed weeks)
3. Job sharing
4. Part-time working
5. Variable part-time working (mixing full and part-time working)
The two formats that emerged the most popular were:
Several full days per week, from one day up to four was the most popular format. It’s straightforward and employers see the benefit of the focus working a full day offers. Also, it’s the most familiar format to businesses and people new to flexible working.
Working some or all of the time from home was the second most popular format. Frequently offered to existing employees seeking more flexibility, homeworking can work for many – but not all – roles. Reduced commuting time offers real lifestyle and wellbeing benefits to the employee and improved productivity to the employer.
Flexible hours & Variable Part Time Working
Following closely behind and on a par, ‘reduced daily hours, every day’ and ‘reduced daily hours, part-week’ were also popular, reflecting the variety of options employers and employees can use to make flexible working work effectively without compromising the demands of the job.
Lastly, ‘Jobshare’ was by far the least popular flexible working format – particularly amongst SMEs. Whilst this format offers a number of benefits, particularly as a solution to retain valued employee seeking reduced hours, this format is perceived as being difficult to set up and a challenge to manage.
“My business is built on flexible working. It means I attract and retain very good, committed and loyal people who are never worried about work/life balance as that is at the heart of our business values.” Private sector CEO, 10–49 employees
Most managers see that there are clear benefits for organisations and staff as a result of flexible working. Four in five feel that allowing staff to work flexibly enhances staff wellbeing, 78% say it helps to retain staff and 64% believe it increases an employer’s ability to attract talent. As well as being appealing to employees and boosting their wellbeing, managers believe it also helps organisations to deal with the increasing consumer expectations of round-the-clock customer service. Two thirds of managers say flexible working allows better matching of the workforce to organisational need, filling the gaps that would be left by the traditional nine to five. The current 24/7 consumer culture also is proving to be a key driver of diversity.
Cost-related benefits including salary savings and the reduced risk of investing in full-time salaries ranked the lowest amongst the list of potential benefits.
In addition to the flexible hours, employees ranked rewarding work that uses skills and experience, as the highest benefit. Followed by interaction with other professionals and a convenient workplace location. Salary considerations, whilst always an important hygiene factor, were ranked lower down the scale than other benefits. However, given local part-time salaries are sometimes significantly lower than their previous full-time roles the results are logical.
Assessing Flexible Workers
The fundamental requirement for employers considering flexible working requests from staff is that they can do their job well. Good time management was seen as the most important trait when considering whether to allow someone to work flexibly, followed by trustworthiness and commitment. Employees also needed to have a proven track record of high performance and be good communicators. Trust is important – but this is something that employees can only really establish if they are given the autonomy to perform their roles without constant supervision. Managers who grant their teams that autonomy are able to assess whether they can trust them, how well they are managing their workload under direction, and their commitment and motivation. Rather than a focus on hours in the office, the focus needs to shift to outputs and results. Experience and time in role is not important – instead, a proven track record of results and demonstrable dedication are key factors in the decision.
Skills for a flexible future
Communication is the most important skill for managers of flexible teams, with 88% saying it is vital. The second most important skill for managers of flexible workers is effective time management along with planning and target-setting. Competent and capable managers will already possess strong communication and time management. Developing these core skills sits right at the heart of good leadership and management.
Flexible working is here to stay. Happily, the vast majority of organisations have embraced it and are seizing the opportunity to better their business in all sorts of ways, from staff wellbeing to the bottom line. The old technological obstacles to flexible working have been well and truly overcome. 95% agree flexible working has been a benefit to their business.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how flexible working can assist with your career prospects or looking for support in finding an exceptional person for your next flexible financial role: CLICK HERE Or call: 01732 897728
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