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