Employees say they want to work flexibly. But what’s in it for employers?
The flexible future of work?
Over 7 million workers across the UK worked flexibly during 2015, and the number is forecast to increase over the coming years. Simon Allport, at EY, says it’s not hard to understand the reasons behind this trend. “Quite simply, flexible working is a source of competitive advantage to employers. It helps companies to attract and retain talented individuals.”
When flexible work is offered, employers report a range of benefits to the business including reduced costs, attracting more talent, and enhanced employee motivation and retention; the benefits can be substantial.
It even appears that flexible working can encourage staff to work harder.
Of course, not all roles and not all workplaces are suited to flexible working, but where employers can offer employees more control over when and how they work, it can bring an additional boost to business.
The trend towards Flexible Working
It’s predicted that the number of men working part-time will increase by 20% over the next few years.
This growth is particularly significant for men in professional or management roles, where an increase of 25% is projected, marking a substantial change in the working patterns of men in highly paid, highly skilled roles.
Employees have the right to ask for flexible work, and young people are more likely to do so, with 92% of younger workers saying they want flexible working options.
But only one in ten job adverts offers flexible working, meaning employers could be missing out on top talent.
Benefits of flexible working
The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development says “Flexible working can lead to direct and indirect business benefits” including reduced office costs for remote workers. Flexible work “allows a better match between business resources and demand.” They report that “Flexible working options can also be attractive for new talent, especially as employee expectations change with regard to their jobs, careers and work-life balance.”
There is evidence that flexible work patterns result in harder working employees. It seems that employees respond well to being trusted, and many say that they can work more intensively when they work flexibly.
Why flexible work can be more intensive work
Researchers found three key reasons that flexible workers reported working more intensely.
- Must work faster: Imposed intensification
When pressured for time with personal commitments, work simply has to be delivered as efficiently as possible. The proverbial wisdom to ‘give a job to a busy person to get it done’ holds true, and it appears that many people juggling family and work life become highly capable at doing things efficiently.
- Can work better: Enabled intensification
The researchers also discovered that working flexibly, particularly working from home, can improve concentration and productivity. It reduced distraction and disruption, enabling more focused and effective work. People reported that flexible working helped them manage health conditions, establish productive work processes and reduce stress, and these factors led to improved performance.
- More trust means more motivation: Reciprocal intensification
Flexible workers reported increased motivation levels, as a way to ‘thank’ their employer for trusting them. This was not something researchers had anticipated, but this theme of ‘social exchange’ emerged in interviews with people working flexibly. They said they wanted to return the benefit to their employer by exerting more effort in their work, in exchange for the benefits the employer offered them through a flexible approach.
Making it happen
Of course, there are barriers to making flexible work effective.
Many roles require a fixed schedule, and for work to be delivered precisely to procedure.
However, up to 87% of employees state that they would like to work flexibly, and the CIPD suggests that employers seek to implement flexible working where possible.
To help implement flexible working effectively, organisations should:
- establish a clear process for flexible working
- ensure that there are defined roles and responsibilities for employees, line managers and HR
- assess the current level of support offered to line managers
- invest in ongoing communication and raising awareness
- make use of pilots and trial periods
- advertise job vacancies as being open to flexible working - many highly skilled individuals are looking for flexibility in working hours.