A bit of flexibility goes a long way...
Many employers hear the phrase "flexible working", and alarm bells just immediately start ringing. Letting people go home early? Trusting people to work from home? Surely that's a recipe for disaster?
Well, it doesn't have to be! The smartphone, the VPN and the cloud all make it possible for people to work practically and efficiently away from the office – and putting a little bit of trust in your employees will more often than not turn out for the better.
We're big fans of flexible working – we think that when an employee really needs it, it's a fantastic option to have. The benefits for employee wellbeing and work/life balance are outstanding, and the impact on a company's bottom line is actually nothing but positive!
Let's dive in and learn all about flexible working, and why it's a great idea.
Types of flexible working
Flexible working isn't just letting people breeze in and out when they please – though many employers will let people break out of their normal hours in more informal arrangements on the understanding that they'll catch up on them later. There are a few different kinds of flexible working:
Very straightforward – employees are contracted to work less than full-time hours. This may involve elements of job sharing, where two part-time employees share the role of one full-time employee.
Employees have a set number of hours a day, and they can meet them in any way they see fit. There may be core hours – say from 10am to 3pm – that flexi-time workers have to be in the office or on call for, but otherwise they can get their work done at a time that suits them.
Working from home
Employees work from home – whether full-time, or just for part of the week. This arrangement may involve elements of a flexi-time setup, with home-working days starting and ending later, for example – it all depends on the reason an employee has for working from home.
Compressed working hours
People work full-time hours over the course of a week, but squeeze them all into fewer days. They may work 10-hour days on Monday to Thursday, and have Friday off, for example.
Certain employees may have different start, end, and break times to others. Kind of like shift-working, but not quite, as there's usually an overlap – staggering may only be by one or two hours.
Similar to compressed hours, but spread over a longer timescale. An employee's total hours are calculated by year, with core hours that they have to work each week – but they can choose how they fulfil the rest. These extra hours can also be used to call employees in at short notice to meet demand.
It's entirely possible that people are already working in some of these arrangements naturally, even if you don't think of it as "flexible working". But they all involve a degree of employee-employer trust and, realistically, if you're open to one, is there a reason not to be open to another?
Benefits of flexible working for employees
So, why is flexible working great for employees? Most importantly, because it lets them fit their job around their lives, rather than forcing them to fit their lives around their job.
It could be argued that society has become too focused on work – people are too defined by their job. It's where we spend most of our day, and many people are increasingly expected to be reachable out-of-hours thanks to the same tech we mentioned earlier.
But people need a good balance between work and the rest of their lives. When work takes over, it can lead to stress, burnout, health problems, and absenteeism – all things that, hurt productivity and engagement, rather than improve it.
People who are able to step away from work, and have control over how it effects their lives, will be happier while they're in work – and they'll be more engaged with the employers that give them this freedom.
Flexible working can help people handle the school run, make childcare more affordable, provide time to care for relatives, or reduce the stress of a rush hour commute. It gives people time to pursue creative projects and personal development that can bring new ideas and perspectives back to the company. It can also give time to volunteer with charities, time to see friends and families, time to unwind and take care of themselves – all the things that make life… life.
Benefits of flexible working for employers
Flexible working isn't just something that benefits employees – there are real benefits for a company's bottom line in letting employees work in the way that suits them.
We've already mentioned how a poor work/life balance leads to absenteeism, harming productivity. But flexible working doesn't just reduce damage to productivity – it actively improves it!
In 2016, Vodafone published a report, Flexible: Friend or Foe, one of the largest global workplace surveys of its kind. Surveying 8,000 business professionals across three continents, the results were unanimous: flexible working works.
Of the 75% of companies worldwide that have introduced flexible working in some way:
- 83% saw an increase in productivity
- 61% had seen their company's profits increase
- 58% said the policies had improved their organisation's reputation
The survey found that it's the US that leads the way on flexible working and that, among the 82% of US companies who had implemented flexible working policies:
- 86% saw a productivity increase
- 58% saw a profit increase
- 77% saw an increase in staff morale
- 61% saw an improvement in teamwork
Flexible working won't work for every job role, every organisation, and every employee. But the numbers look good – flexible working can have a positive impact on productivity, profitability and retention, making it something worth exploring for UK businesses.
What's the law on flexible working policies?
One final note – it's always important to ensure that any flexible working policies are following the law on working hours.
Employees are entitled to:
- At least 11 hours' rest between the end of one work day and the beginning of another
- Either 24 hours without work each week, or 48 hours each fortnight
- An uninterrupted 20-minute break during any work day longer than six hours
Employees on arrangements such as flexitime or compressed hours may try and flaunt these rules behind employers' backs in order to cram more into one day to get more time off the next, for example – but this can lead to stress and burnout too.
Make sure you encourage your employees to work smart and take care of themselves – that's the point of flexible working, after all!