In July Helen Whately, MP put forward a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament that would make flexible working hours a default option for employees, unless a business has legitimate reasons to set fixed hours.
For employers, introducing flexible working initiatives provides a host of benefits, with modern employees valuing work-life balance and seeking companies that offer flexibility.
With 64 per cent of UK businesses currently struggling to find the right staff, flexible working options could be the solution to the growing skills gap. Understanding how to implement flexible working contracts, in addition to recruiting and retaining top talent, is the next step.
Flexible working 101
Before we look at how flexible working can impact businesses, it’s important to understand what it is. Flexible working includes:
- Job sharing
- Part-time hours
- Working from home
- The four-day working week
- Compressed hours
- Annualised hours
- Staggered hours
- Phased retirement
A happy workforce is a productive workforce
In the UK, 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/2018 to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, costing the UK billions. Unmanageable workloads (44 per cent), lack of support (14 per cent) and work changes (8 per cent) are just some of the reasons cited.
One way to support employees in work is through flexible working. According to a recent survey conducted by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) the world’s leading professional body for accounting technicians, those who are afforded flexible working opportunities felt happier (38 per cent), less stressed (35 per cent) and ‘much more productive’ (21 per cent).
Plus, they felt less productive working in a traditional office environment (15 per cent) and worked more effectively in a flexible working day, rather than the usual nine – five.
Flexible working makes staff happier, meaning a more productive workforce and improved output for businesses. In some cases, stock prices can rise and product-based companies can increase sales by 37 per cent and turnover by 33 per cent.
Retain, don’t retrain
It costs employers, on average, £30,000 to replace an employee, so it goes without saying high employee turnover rates are bad for business.
Whether it’s temporary leave to raise a family, absence for health issues or an employee wanting an afternoon off for a child’s sports day, a little bit of flexibility goes a long way in staff retention.
In the same study by AAT, it was also revealed flexible workers felt reluctant to leave their current job if a new one didn’t offer the same flexibility (75 per cent) and were encouraged to stay with employers longer if they were more flexible (77 per cent).
Yet, according to the CIPD, flexible working has not increased in the last 10 years. Flexible working opportunities could prove more effective in employee retention than changes to the office or economic incentives. Plus, if you’re hiring, flexible working options make you more attractive to candidates, improving your chances of hiring the strongest talent.
That’s flexi price
Flexible working offers plenty of economic incentives too, potentially saving on office space and utilities, with employees making use of working-from-home opportunities.
Businesses also benefit from reduced employee sickness absence, especially if your workforce includes parents. Research shows 42.1 per cent of single fathers and 19.7 per cent of single mothers were “economically inactive” due to sickness or disability.
Flexible working means parents do not have to be concerned about the implications of not working to a set schedule, as they can work hours or make up time when it suits them. This means if they need to do things like take their child to the doctor in the morning during a working day, they can do so without worrying.
Flexibility in practice
Despite the advantages of flexible working policies, introducing new working arrangements can be challenging. There may be resistance from managers, work scheduling difficulties and additional costs to consider.
To begin preparing a successful flexible working policy, those in HR leadership roles should consult employees and managers to determine potential drawbacks, barriers and the overall demand for flexible working options. This offers the chance to gain feedback from those who will be affected by changes to working practices.
Training and support for line managers is important, as they will be responsible for approving any flexible working arrangements day-to-day. It is essential these opportunities are consistent and fair and that you achieve company-wide buy-in, including from senior management.
Employers will find scope for flexibility in most roles, but should assess on a case-by-case basis on the following factors:
- Time: is the role full-time or part-time?
- Location: where do the work activities take place?
- When: what activities must be done when?
There may be additional considerations, like if the role is supervisory, or who will deputise while management is out of office. If the role involves sensitive information or data, how can you ensure this remains confidential?
Flexible working will look different in every industry and workplace but businesses can begin by rolling out trial runs of different working options and reviewing how they impact employee wellbeing and productivity by scheduling regular catch-ups and asking for feedback.