Flexible working – does a stigma still exist?

25 October 2019

Flexibility in work is high on the agenda with an emphasis following the Taylor Review and its recommendations to ensure ‘good work’  for all groups in society. With the ongoing development of technology and systems, working flexibly is easier than it has ever been before for some parts of the workforce, yet is there still stigma attached to working flexibly in some organisations?

When talking about working flexibly, there is an important distinction between the statutory right to request flexible working and the practice of working flexibly.

Statutory right to request flexible working

All employees with 26 weeks continuous service have a statutory right to request a permanent change to their terms and conditions. A process must be followed, and a request may only be declined in certain circumstances as defined by the legislation. 

Despite the Government’s move back in 2014 to extend the statutory right to request flexible working to all employees with 26 weeks continuous service (rather than only to those with young children), figures suggest that it is not viewed as a positive change.  

Working flexibly

Working practices should agreed by an organisation in order to afford some flexibility. Typical examples include flexibility with start and finish times or working from home on occasion. 

It does need to be recognised that working flexibly might not be appropriate to all types of role or industry.  However, if your organisation does offer flexibility, it is important to let employees and future employees know.  

The Flexible Jobs Index conducted by Timewise in 2019 found that only 15 per cent of UK job ads offer flexible working and whilst the rate is increasing slightly year-on-year, the pace of growth remains slow.

The study also suggests that sector has an important influence on whether a role will be advertised flexibly - with medical and health roles offering more flexibility than other categories such as construction or engineering. However interestingly the greatest rise in offering flexibility within a job is cited amongst the highest paid roles eg jobs paid over £60,000 FTE, suggesting that where roles have a greater degree of autonomy, or where there is a scarcity of talent, offering flexibility is becoming more prevalent.  

In another survey of 1,600 civil servants, by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, results showed a quarter (25 per cent) felt their superior viewed their flexible working as a negative, while 35 per cent said they needed to put in extra hours to show their commitment.  

Employers looking to improve their diversity may like to consider developing recruitment and development strategies that work at all levels of role. By sharing that your organisation adopts flexible practices in job advertisements, you may attract a higher number of good quality candidates that otherwise may not have applied. Once staff have been recruited and developed, it is important to retain your investment. Flexibility can act as a good retention tool for employers looking to retain talented individuals in an organisation. 

Flexibility is increasingly viewed as important to employees, particularly with millennials who it is estimated will hold 35 per cent of roles in the global economy by 2020. So this could be a good time to consider how flexibility could attract and retain the workforce of the future without necessarily increasing costs to the business.

For employers considering flexible working options or who are interested in discussing how to manage an inter-generational workforce with changing workplace demands, people management advice and guidance can be provided by RSM. Please contact David Gibbens or Kerri Constable for more information.