Flexible working - dispelling the myths

Flexible working is a hot topic at the moment. At a time when 87% of UK employees either work flexibly already or would prefer to, and 95% of firms now offer some form of flexible working, it’s still one of those subjects that employers and employees alike are reluctant to talk about.

Before I get started, I should mention that if you offer flexible working and your employees are fully engaged and motivated, then the things I advise in this blog are probably solutions you're already using. If that's the case, great - keep up the good work! But ask yourself is there nothing about your flexible working policy that could be improved? Be honest. If you think there's room for improvement...read on.

To help start the conversation, I’m going to look at the myths surrounding flexible working, and do my best to dispel them.

I already offer my staff flexible working – what’s the problem?

It’s not enough to just offer a flexible working strategy as a tick box exercise. The vast majority of firms offer flexible working, yet as 77% of flexible workers say they feel ‘trapped’ in their roles, there’s definitely a problem with how it’s being administered.

When re-thinking your approach to flexible working, it makes sense to start at the beginning – the recruitment stage. When advertising roles, make sure you let potential recruits know you offer flexible working and you’ll reap the rewards. According to DigitalMums, three quarters of 18- to 24-year-olds not working are more likely to apply for a job with flexible hours over a standard job.

It’s also important to look at how many requests you’ve received for flexible working and how many have been accepted. Make sure you’re not rejecting requests just because it needs time, effort and a bit of commitment from you to accommodate a flexible working request.

Breaking the taboo

Another thing to consider is to make sure you nurture a culture where staff feel it’s OK to ask for flexible working - DigitalMums recently reported 51% of UK employees think asking for flexible working hours would be viewed negatively by their employer. This reluctance is highest amongst millennials, with 40% saying they’d be too nervous or worried to ask for flexible working hours.

Also, make sure your flexible working policy has moved on from just people with children. According to Timewise’s Flexible Working study, only 3 in 10 people cite childcare as the reason for wanting to work flexibly. Nowadays, flexibility is welcomed across whole employee demographic – by everyone from millennials to mums returning to work to older employees.

At first glance, flexible working might not seem like such a good idea for employers

Allowing employees to set their own hours and come and go as they please has got to be bad for business, right?

Wrong! Studies have shown it’s great for business to give your employees the autonomy to decide their working hours, right down to the time they start and finish work, and where they do their work.

In the main, this is down to the satisfaction and motivation that a flexible working structure gives to the employee. And of course, the happier your workforce, the fewer P45s you’ll have to deal with.

The Balance argues that flexible working can have a number of positive influences, from helping employees meet family needs to increased feeling of personal control over schedule and work environment.

In this article from the Guardian, Natalie Pancheri, HR Policy Adviser at the London School of Economics (LSE) agrees. “The benefits of flexible working are well established, from increased employee engagement to better performance,” she says.

Surely, if people aren’t in the office where I can keep any eye on them, productivity is going to fall off a cliff

Wrong again. A study by Cranfield’s School of Management concluded that flexible workers actually tended to be more productive. According to the report: “only a small proportion of respondents indicated that flexible working had a negative impact on the quantity of work of either the flexible workers themselves or their co-workers.”

One respondent said: “I would say that I am more productive because you get less randomised by people coming to your desk, or just getting caught up in the banter of the office, or that kind of thing. I think it’s just easier and I can be quite focused, and probably productivity is higher I’d say if I work from home.”

It seems like offering flexible working will solve all my company’s problems with recruiting and retaining the best staff!

While flexible working will likely help attract the best talent and ensure they stay with your company for longer, there’s no getting away from the fact that it can be hard work, and a lot of businesses face challenges when adopting flexible working policies. For example, staff are always needed at a certain peak time, which means some requests have to be rejected.

Now and again, flexible working agreements won’t work with certain employees. There needs to be an open dialogue to ensure there is no resentment and the employee doesn’t end up losing motivation.

If you offer flexible working, yet your attrition rate is still high, or productivity is low, the best way to start would be to ask your employees how you can make things better.

It’s also important to remember that employee benefits don’t exist in a vacuum. Having a varied and wide-ranging employee benefits offering is essential in attracting, engaging and retaining the best talent in your industry.

It stands to reason, then, that the companies that grasp the nettle and offer their employees a more flexible approach will thrive, while those that choose to wait to be approached about it will be left behind.

If you’d like to know more about flexible working or employee benefits, get in touch with us at salary-extras@computershare.co.uk

Clarity on the Government’s response to the childcare voucher petition

A big thank you to everyone who signed the petition – we’ve smashed the 100,000 signatures needed and a date (15 January 2018) has now been set for the petition to be debated in parliament.

If you signed the petition, or visited the petition page, you will have seen the government’s response. It pitched TFC against childcare vouchers rather than both schemes running alongside each other, as the petition called for.

The Childcare Voucher Providers Association (CVPA) believes there are some important facts to understand about the benefits of childcare vouchers that parents are set to lose. 

It has been said that TFC is fairer and better targeted than vouchers, but this doesn’t take into account that families would lose all support under TFC if one parent was not in work for any reason this could be an unexpected job loss or having to stop working to look after an elderly relative. With Childcare Vouchers, the family would still receive support where they wouldn’t with TFC via the other working parent.

The average family will be able to claim more support with Childcare Vouchers. Tax-Free Childcare is often said to offer £2,000 of support, but this is based on a family spending a total of £10,000 a year on childcare, with £8,000 out of their own pocket. Most families cannot afford this. In fact, according to the Government’s figures, the average family spends £3,276 on childcare each year. This family would only receive up to £655 of support under TFC but could receive up to £1,866 with Childcare Vouchers.

It is also important to acknowledge that anyone who claimed TFC would lose access to any other working tax credits and universal credit, and these other benefits would still be available to a family using Childcare Vouchers.

It is also sometimes claimed that TFC is “fairer” to single parents, but single parent households could still be worse off with TFC. As a single parent paying standard rate tax would have to spend over £4665 on childcare to be better off with TFC than with Childcare Vouchers. It is precisely instances like this that shows us the importance of keeping both schemes open.

People sometimes think Childcare Vouchers has restricted access, but well over 20 million employees of the 31 million in this country can access vouchers. This includes everyone who works for any public sector body and any large employer. And this number is growing by the day. Even with the threat of closure over 1000 new small and medium sized businesses sign up to join the Childcare Voucher scheme every month.

Hopefully you’ll be able to see why we think it is so important that we keep Childcare Vouchers open.

How to measure the value of employee benefits

Getting an employee benefits programme off the ground can be a big undertaking, so once it’s in place it’s easy to sit back and hope your employees are getting what they need. But just how effective are your employee benefits?

The possible removal of salary sacrifice arrangements means it’s going to be even harder to prove the return on investment in employee benefits. With that in mind, here’s a few tips on how to measure their value.

Why should you be measuring?

Employee benefits are a great way to show your staff you value them. They also provide perks that are a lot easier to instigate than a pay rise. It’s really easy to tailor to your individual workforce’s needs, meaning you get even more bang for your buck.

However, if the tax and National Insurance relief of benefits in kind are removed, it will be harder to prove that employee benefits are worth the investment. In most cases, it’s inevitable that some benefits will have to be dropped. It will therefore be even more crucial for employers to know which benefits are important to their staff, and, in turn, should be renewed.

Seeing the value

Having a clear idea of the value of your employee benefits helps you to meet company targets regarding employee satisfaction and retention. An Employee Insight report conducted by Capita in 2015 stated that ‘66% of staff would be more likely to stay with an employer that offered good benefits’.

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If you’re still wondering why you should keep staff then the below infographic should tell you everything you need to know. Unmotivated staff leads to higher attrition, and training new employees can cost in excess of £30k.

If you have a high staff turnover, sickness rate and a work force that seems fed up, then your employee benefits aren’t doing their job. These factors are not only going to drag your profits down, they also all feed into one another, so nipping them in the bud is very important.

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What should you be measuring?

Some of the key things to measure are:

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How do you measure?

If you want to know whether you’re getting a good return out of your employee benefits programme, then why not ask the users?

If your scheme is falling short of your targets or you simply want to keep making improvements, speak to your staff.

They will be able to tell you what benefits would be appealing. According to The Benefits Research 2014, 41% of companies say they introduce or change benefits based on requests from their employees.

You can get feedback by running surveys, from informal conversations or via appraisals. The most important thing is to keep staff involved.

For an unbeatable level of insight, online benefits platforms like Salary Extras give you the opportunity to track engagement - view log-in numbers, how frequently people are logging in, whether or not they are making selections, etc.

What next?

Now you have your results – it’s time to review your employee benefits offering. Most packages can be renewed annually, but research by Unum shows that over 50% of businesses have not reviewed their packages since 2008. Feedback is crucial to make sure money is spent in the right place. Don’t be afraid to change the range of benefits you offer.

If your employees are getting the best employee benefits then they are unlikely to be looking anywhere else – but that shouldn’t stop you. Staying ahead of the competition and checking out other people’s ideas is also a great way to keep up to date with the latest perks. LinkedIn are a great example of how to shake things up and make waves with your employee benefits, offering everything from educational grants to yoga.

As your business grows and changes, it’s important to review your supplier and how well their service matches your needs. And, as with any other service, it’s important to keep negotiating to ensure you have the best value scheme.

If you haven’t been measuring the value of your employee benefits, then it’s not too late – start now!

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