The UK has a productivity problem. We work some of the longest hours in Europe, yet our output still limps behind that of nearly all our continental neighbours. The differential is so stark that German workers could finish on Thursday and still produce as much as we do in five days. Could flexible working help us close the gap?
Over the past decade, politicians and pundits have put forward big-hitting ideas to address the UK’s productivity: multi-million-pound investments in infrastructure, digital technologies and R&D; an overhaul of our educational system; and ambitious policies to tackle the stubborn North-South divide.
Now attention has turned to how small-scale changes, replicated thousands of times across the country, could be part of the solution. Studies increasingly show that flexible working models, such as remote working, variable hours and flexible contracts, could play a vital role in boosting UK output.
The idea is that giving employees more say over when, where and how they work leads to better morale and motivation levels. Workers are happier, call in sick less often and ultimately produce more. Studies even show that flexible working can be a more powerful motivator than financial rewards alone.
Despite the perceived business case for flexible working, middle market businesses have been slow to react. Our research shows that while 70 per cent are exploring the idea of flexible working, they’re not thinking about all available options. Most are focusing on one element of flexibility – either home working, flexible hours or flexible contracts. To be a truly progressive employer, they should be looking at all three.
Looking ahead, demand for flexible working will only rise. Today’s empowered workers increasingly look for organisations that help them achieve a better work-life balance. As it becomes ever-harder to hire and keep hold of top-performing talent, offering truly flexible working arrangements will become a powerful tool to securing your organisation’s future talent pipeline.
At the same time, flexible working arrangements can have an important effect on your diversity agenda. The arrival of the Gender Pay Gap regulations in 2017 means the public and media now have a clear window into your organisation. Each year there will be a growing expectation that you’ll take steps to close your gap. Flexible working will be an important way to help give everyone at your organisation an equal chance to progress.
With demand for flexible working only set to increase, and the war for talent only set to intensify, it’s critical you take steps to embed truly flexible working arrangements. You may be worried about how this will affect the running of your organisation and your approach to people management. But with the right changes, and the right controls, you’ll quickly see an uplift in your business culture and performance.
Learn how to embed flexible working arrangements by downloading our new forces at work guide.