Do you view flexible working as an employee benefit or a right that everyone should have access to? We look at why employers need to address flexible working now.
If flexible working is still a fluffy concept in your head – the preserve of working parents, Scandinavian countries and the likes of Richard Branson – it’s time to take a deep breath.
Flexible working is the future of employee engagement.
Whether you view it as a necessity or not, it has a direct bearing on your success as an employer of choice. If you don’t give flexible working its due, you could stand to affect all sorts of things, from talent retention to productivity and even your profitability as a company.
Your employees are your product. How you view their work-life balance will affect how they feel about getting out of bed in the morning.
By improving quality of life, you move people to emotionally invest in you, and enable (or mould) your staff to fulfil their potential whilst motivating them to want to do more.
So, are your employees reaching for the snooze button five times every morning, or are you inspiring your people to be better than that?
We explore the myths behind flexible working and show you why it’s time to get with the flexible working movement.
1. NOT JUST ANOTHER EMPLOYEE BENEFIT
It’s no longer an option to sweep flexible working under the ‘nice-to-have’ banner of workplace benefits.
We’re constantly hearing that millennials are expecting flexible working as a matter of course. And who could blame them? We also know they’re shopping around for jobs, so how can you stand out from the crowd if you don’t offer a decent work-life balance?
As the first generation to have been brought up practically eating off iPads, it seems digital connectivity is heralding in the end of the traditional working day.
What’s more, as Sodexo’s research found, “Traditional employee rewards like good pay, good pensions and maternity leave etc, have joined the long list of what psychologist Frederick Herzberg defines as ‘hygiene factors’.”
When staff automatically expect employee benefits, you can’t raise anyone’s levels of satisfaction by offering them. Yet if you don’t have them, their absence will have an impact.
Simply put, you’re falling short.
Without the right employee perks in place, it can lead to job dissatisfaction.
Yet what could be more relevant in today’s modern working environment than flexible working for all? Make it company policy and watch how the people engagement soon stacks up.
2. NOT JUST ABOUT ATTRACTING STAFF
When it comes to finding high quality staff, your company might offer apprenticeships or internships. They may even dish out returnships for professionals who’ve had a career break.
If so, you’ll know these multiple ‘ships’ are crucial programmes designed to bring the best talent into your workplace like a well-placed port in a storm.
But have you considered that a robust flexible working policy can do just the same for your company? And we don’t mean paying lip service to staff requests just because of the 2014 legislation that was brought in.
Any minute now, businesses are going to realise they’re losing out by not offering flexible working to all employees at job offer level. In fact, just 6% of job adverts advertise flexible working at the outset.
Not great really, is it?
Not when we’re continuing to hear about the gender pay gap and the disparity between men and women’s wages, as well as seniority at work.
It’s thought that flexible working can boost diversity as well as health and wellbeing at work, ensuring senior people remain at the top of their game, fully engaged and committed to their organisations.
With employment at record levels, attracting new hires and talent retention is going to be top of the HR and management list of priorities, which means putting flexible working up there too. It will certainly be key to bringing your business to the next level.
In fact, according to research by Management Today and Sopra Steria, a third of respondents admitted they had declined a position because it didn’t offer flexible work options.
But this is about more than just attracting talent and keeping the people you have.
Lack of flexibility at work is also affecting internal recruitment and stress levels at work as well. The Modern Families Index 2018 revealed that 1 in 10 senior staff had rejected a promotion at work because of the limited work-life opportunities.
That’s a lot of unfulfilled talent.
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said of the study that, “Parents are responding to the pressure on them by acting – deliberately stalling and downshifting their careers.”
Fact is, as an employer, you could be missing out on hours of productivity, and the answer could be right under your nose.
3. NOT JUST FOR WORKING PARENTS
It’s not just parents who are feeling the burn.
Employees without children want the same positive workplace culture as those who dash off to collect their offspring from childcare on time. After all, as they rightly want to know, surely their needs matter too?
People need flexibility for all sorts of reasons these days. They might be suffering from burnout due to long commutes, a long-term health issue, or they may have other commitments like ageing parents or a poorly partner.
“The professional climate is changing” says Iain Thomson. “We’re seeing the pendulum swing back in the favour of the employee. It’s now down to employers to create something exceptional – culture, talent management, and engagement are all a part of this. Becoming the ‘employer of choice’ will be the biggest boardroom conundrum over the next decade.”
How you go about incorporating flexible working to your daily professional lives to create engagement at work will be key. We’d put communication, technology and good leadership central to this.
You can work with an engagement solutions expert to find creative ways to communicate well with staff and make sure everyone is aware of your company engagement programmes.
If you lead by example, focusing on the work itself rather than how it’s being done, we can guarantee you’ll drive motivational success stories from within.
4. NOT JUST WORKING FROM HOME
As Sodexo’s foray into the future of employee engagement suggests (and M People) – the workplace is movin’ on up.
Thanks to enhanced technology helping us to communicate more seamlessly – going way beyond email – there’s no reason why we have to be chained to the office any more.
The thought that remote working means an employee might not be pulling their weight is frankly outdated to our minds. Many people find fewer distractions and interruptions when working from home and say they get more work done this way. We know this, you know this.
If you’re worried, why not up your measurement processes. Be clear about targets and what needs doing and when. Trust goes a long way but if you can see clear business results, who’s to complain?
Take it further by recognising success and you can create a culture that thrives on rewarding achievements. This will feed into your employee’s desire to perform to a high level – wherever they happen to be working.
Flexible working doesn’t just mean working at home either. There are all sorts of different working patterns that could be beneficial for your business in the long run.
Employees working to compressed hours, 9-day weeks, part-time hours or job shares are more often than not, already operating to a daily deadline. It means they’re focused, organised and hard working – they won’t be wasting time pouring over social media or chin-wagging.
Flexible workers know they’ve been given trust and responsibility by an employer who cares about their emotional wellbeing. And as such, they will work hard for you.
After all, with 13 million working days lost every year to stress and anxiety, a little bit of concern for employee mental health will go a long way.
Marei Wollersberger, Design Company Director, Normally Design, allows her staff to work four-day weeks, paying them as if they are doing the traditional five.
What could be better than a boss who wants to encourage people to live their lives on Fridays rather than reply to emails and have more time off sick feeling stressed?
Who wouldn’t want to work there?!
We’re guessing they don’t have problems attracting talent or retaining it. It seems flexible working is transforming behaviour across businesses like this who are forward-thinking enough to embrace its many benefits.
5. NOT JUST A BIT OF SELF PROMOTION
It’s all about taking the blinkers off. It’s time to expand the employer’s view of what flexible working actually means for businesses.
Ultimately, flexible working is for everyone – employers and employees alike. The issue is, many organisations still see it as an individual’s problem and not a company essential in creating a positive workplace culture.
Just look at how the right to request flexible working requests give employers a three month window to respond. For the employee who requires flexible working, that can be a very long time in their lives if they’re juggling childcare and long shifts for example.
It also brings the concern that other team members won’t understand and there could be a gap in knowledge if the member of staff isn’t available at certain times. Again, as Sodexo’s research highlights, good communication can go a long way to solving these issues for managers.
If flexible working is viewed as something for everyone, the team will really get on board with it. Just look at how AGE UK’s Head of External Affairs, Angela Kitching and Hannah Pearce manage their successful job share partnership.
It’s well known that flexible workers can bring great expertise and knowledge to the businesses they work for. But if you turn down an individual’s request, it won’t be long before your senior talent walks out the door. And nobody wants that.
FLEXIBLE WORKING AIDS EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
It’s only a matter of time before flexible working becomes a ‘norm’ and not a nice-to-have, a ‘maybe-maybe not’ benefit. And now’s the time to act.
Whether it’s improving quality of life for managers or office juniors, we can all benefit from a workplace that values its employees’ other commitments and needs.
To not have a robust flexible working policy in place – and one that’s proactive and quick to deliver results – is going to be a massive error of management judgement.
“We need a more widespread, genuinely flexible approach to work. But on its own flexible working is not enough if all it delivers is the flexibility to manage a bumper workload,” says Jackson.
Bring flexible working into everything you do as managers, and your motivational success stories will multiply.
Because if you do, you can boost employee engagement for everyone in your organisation. And if you don’t, well, it could end up having a detrimental effect on your talent retention rates and beyond.
Trust us, flexible working is the future. Make sure you’re ready.