Flexibility – what are the benefits and challenges for your organisation

31 May 2019

Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs and gives flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times they can work. Studies have increasingly shown that it can play a vital role in boosting UK output yet more than 10 per cent of businesses don’t offer flexible working practices (CIPD, 2019).

What types of flexible working practices are popular?

By far the most widely offered option for organisations is reported to be part-time working. Over 90 per cent of businesses offer this form of flexibility. This is followed by flexitime as the second most prevalent practice. Others, such as home working and job share, have slightly declined in availability. 

It is found that most middle market organisations are focusing only on one element of flexibility – either home working, flexible hours or flexible contracts (RSM, 2018). However, the CIPD survey of employers identifies 12 different types of flexible arrangements. It is possible that the practices may not be compatible with the nature of work, they don’t fit with the culture of the business or there is no demand from employees. However, flexible working arrangements are being regarded by many as a solution to long working hours and a highly useful tool to integrate paid work with other important life roles such as family or leisure. 

We suggest organisations consider their employee’s work-life boundary styles, as one of the many influencing factors, before implementing flexible working practices. For example, it is typically found that employees who blend work and personal activities together during the day would prefer integrative flexible working practices such as remote working or onsite childcare provisions.

Is there an increased demand for flexibility?

As it is reported that 81 per cent of people believe flexible working would make a job more attractive to them and 35 per cent of people would request flexible working over a pay rise, evidence suggests that there is an increased demand (PowWowNow, 2019). This is argued to be particularly true for Millennials, who demand work-life balance and see flexibility as the key to get it. With Millennials due to represent a significant percentage of the global workforce in the next couple of years, it may be a difficult request to ignore if organisations are to stay competitive.

What does our organisation need to consider when implementing flexible working practices?

Employers considering introducing flexible working should also think about the challenges of implementing more flexible practices. Research suggests flexible working can lead to job creep where job design or business objectives are not clearly defined for individuals, which can have a negative impact on employee’s wellbeing. In addition, it has also suggested that employees opting in to more flexible working arrangements can become side lined and those working non-flexibly feel their own work arrangements are impacted as a result of colleagues’ working patterns.

We also suggest it is also worth remembering the legal framework for flexible working requests. If an employer receives a flexible working request in many circumstances the organisation is legally obligated to consider the application and can only refuse based on a qualified reason.

Why does flexible working matter?

There are broader payoffs to businesses as flexible arrangements are linked to greater organisation commitment from employees, lower staff turnover rates and better productivity. This was confirmed by the Flexible Working Task Force, who reiterates the role of flexible working in:

  1. addressing skill and labour shortages, by making work more accessible to younger, older people and those with caring responsibilities, and helping organisations retain them; and
  2. creating more diverse workforces, which can help towards reducing the gender pay gap by giving more opportunities to women to progress into senior roles. 

Flexible working also holds significant benefits to employees’ well-being as it has proven to boost job satisfaction and engagement as well as help reduce sickness absence and support an employee’s return to work. For example, usually employees who work from home have low levels of workplace stress in comparison to those who work in cubicles or open-plan offices. 

The improvement to work-life balance is often stated as the biggest benefit from flexible working, with better job satisfaction, lower levels of burnout and increased morale also listed. If organisations are clearly seeing the benefits, but continue to offer limited options, it’s possible the issue may be around a lack of understanding what is possible and how to best match it to an organisation’s business needs 

For those employers considering flexible working options, help is at hand, contact Kerri Constable for more information.