While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution – organisations have to establish what works for them and their staff given the nature of their work and industry sector – flexible working is a pivotal part of any company’s people strategy. Not only have employees come to expect it but increasingly also the companies who themselves operate flexible working policies and expect their business partners to also demonstrate a flexible approach in their business partnership.
We dissect (as honestly as we can) FIVE key points often associated with flexible working:
1) It raises employee satisfaction
A recent Harvard Business Review survey found that those employers who offered their staff the possibility of working four-day weeks reported greater satisfaction and reduced sickness. Now while that may not be feasible nor realistic for some sectors and professions, allowing employees flexible start and finish times or choice of location does make a significant difference to work-life balance and happiness. Whether catering for employees with children, those having to care for an elderly or sick parent or relative, or a need to occasionally work from home, we all need some flexibility in our working lives.
Top takeaway: flexible, family-friendly working practices will increase job satisfaction.
2) It improves rates of attraction and retention
“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that will give extra flexibility to their employees will have an edge in this area.” Bill Gates certainly knows a thing or two about what it takes to build a world leading company and stay at the top. A recent survey by ETZ payments found that flexible working was deemed more important than a pay rise and found to be the most important factor for almost half of respondents (43%) when choosing employment. And with employees quick to jump ship or go freelance, companies can’t afford to dismiss flexible working.
Top takeaway: offering flexible work options has to be a top business imperative.
3) It leads to increased employee productivity
The positive correlation between flexible working and productivity is a tricky one to prove. Although the evidence would suggest so and most will say that flexible working has had a positive effect on productivity – or at least, hasn’t dramatically reduced productivity – many organisations are understandably treading somewhat cautiously. That is why for example we’re seeing flexible working trials being introduced for groups of employees. But to realise consistent productivity benefits long term, the CEO and board must fully back flexible working and must be entrenched into the company’s DNA.
Top takeaway: flexible working must be embedded into the culture to reap productivity gains.
4) It engenders a lack of trust among colleagues
It’s nigh on impossible to keep a close tab on employees, especially those working from home, so you have to trust those who are afforded the privilege. Underpinning any successful flexible working programme has to be a culture of trust, which is one of the reasons why Finland comes top of the flexible working tables. Having robust recruitment practices in place will minimize the risk of making the wrong hiring decision in the first place, so candidate selection processes must be thorough in terms of not just assessing for technical competence but also for the person’s character and integrity.
Top takeaway: you have to trust people to get on with their jobs. Think work output, not time.
5) It’s not applied equally throughout the organisation
There are still stigmas surrounding flexible working. Workers can often be perceived by their fellow employees as being skivers or slackers, especially if they’re never seen around the office. But it also raises the question of fairness – are you offering flexible working just to managers and directors and are you penalising those people who do work flexibly? According to a recent joint Timewise & Deloitte study, 1 in 4 workers felt that they were overlooked for promotion with nearly a third saying they felt less important as a result. Employees should make no apology or feel demeaned if they work flexibly.
Top takeaway: make sure that flexible working practices are accepted and open to everyone.
Organisations are fast realising that they need to heed the words of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and be more ‘flexible in their working arrangements’ if they are to attract and keep hold of the best talent. While there are challenges to overcome, if applied equitably, flexible working ought to be supported and encouraged. You simply can’t put a price on the wellbeing of your workers.