Indeed, work flexibility has been a saving grace for many employees, who might otherwise find it difficult to manage their work alongside study, family and lifestyle commitments.
What do we mean when we talk about flexible working? While the term naturally means different things to different people, it encompasses options such as staggered hours (which allows employees to start and finish at different times), compressed hours (where the contracted number of hours are worked over fewer days), and the ability to work remotely on chosen days.
Over the last few years here in the UK, flexible working options have become a key consideration for prospective employees considering a new position. For this reason, it is vital that businesses take note of changing worker preferences to ensure they have the structures in place to cater to the evolving needs of the workforce.
What the stats tell us
In order to uncover just how important flexible working is to professionals in the UK, Know Your Money recently conducted a survey of more than 2,000 UK adults in full-time or part-time work to gauge their sentiments towards different workplace arrangements.
What became immediately obvious from our findings was that traditional working patterns engrained in society are starting to become at odds with what many people want from their work today. This was particularly evident in people’s willingness to make sacrifices in order to enjoy greater flexibility.
Almost half (49%) of the people Know Your Money surveyed said they would be in favour of a four-day working week, even if it meant they had to take a pay cut of 20%. Three quarters (75%) would also be in favour of a shortened week if they still had to complete their current number of weekly working hours in fewer days.
What’s more, employers should also take note of the following finding – just over 70% of UK workers consider flexible working (in terms of hours and location) as very important to their job satisfaction.
The advantages of flexible working
It’s imperative that businesses see flexible working as a way to help them protect their bottom line; indeed, they risk losing valuable workers and prospective talent if they don’t heed the calls for flexibility which can allow employees to juggle different responsibilities. For some, this means finishing work early to pick up children from school, while for others it could mean working from home on given days so they don’t waste hours of their day commuting. Whatever the underlying motivations behind seeking more flexibility, the most important point is that it promotes a healthier work-life balance, which is just as beneficial for employers as it is for employees.
Indeed, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) referenced several case-studies in its recent guidance on flexible working, which suggest that flexible policies often lead to improvements in motivation, creativity, mental wellbeing and productivity levels. There is clearly a business case to be made for encouraging workplace flexibility.
How businesses can adapt
Organisations must first and foremost address any barriers that stand in the way of employees enjoying greater freedoms in their professional lives. Whether this is stereotypes about workers being less committed to their performance, or a fear of setting precedents that overturn traditional working practices, it’s up to business leaders to ensure that they are actively responding to emloyees’ needs.
A cultural shift is required in many instances to ensure that business’ flexible working policies encourage requests rather than hinder them, and that those who wish to adopt more flexible workplace arrangements are able to do so without unnecessary burdens. HR has a vital role to play here by helping managers understand how to manage flexible and mobile workers through training and on-going support. Beyond this, promoting success stories from employees that are already benefitting from these kinds of arrangements can make a big difference in addressing misconceptions like falling performance.
Technology has also been imperative to supporting this growing movement. It is due to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and laptops that modern workers are able to carry out their daily tasks beyond the remit of the four walls of their office, and outside of traditional working hours.
Businesses must therefore invest in digital solutions – not just physical devices, but also software tools which can help workers stay engaged with their work and feel like part of the company and its culture. This means exploring ways to facilitate fluid interactions and communication between colleagues, which is offered by office companion tools like Slack.
I would urge business leaders to give careful thought as to how they can help evolve their workplace culture to keep up with modern working practices. Indeed, the rise of remote and flexible working brings several positives for both employer and employee, ultimately helping foster healthy workplace relationships and a better work-life balance.
About the Author
Nic Redfern is the Finance Director at KnowYourMoney.co.uk