Why flexibility in the workplace matters

Wouldn’t it be great if all workers loved their jobs and committed 100 per cent to their work? Seriously, hand on heart, how many of your employees are happy, focused and achieve optimum productivity?

Productivity is the puzzle all SMEs want to solve. The UK once boasted the highest economic output per capita in the world, but this has gradually slipped and we now remain way below that of many of our competitor countries. The productivity gap between the UK and other similar EU economies has in fact widened since the 2008/2009 recession.

A study of UK businesses and employees carried out by HSBC found that nine in ten employees consider flexible working to be the biggest motivator to their productivity levels in the workplace. However, less than three out of ten workers are offered flexible working by their employers.

What is flexible working?

Flexibility has become a bit of buzzword in business in recent years. Flexible working is being offered to potential employees as a perk. But in many cases, flexible hours are nebulous.

So, what do we mean by flexible working? Flexibility in the workplace is about employees working a different work pattern to the norm. It can involve changes to the hours an employee works, the times they work or the place of work. Examples are:

  • changing from full-time to part-time
  • changing the hours or days worked
  • compressed hours (working usual hours in fewer days)
  • changing work hours to fit in with personal commitments, such as the school run or care arrangements
  • remote or home working
  • job sharing
  • staggered hours (starting and finishing at different times each day)
  • flexitime (flexibility around agreed core times)

The law on flexible working

In 2014, the government introduced Flexible Working Regulations enabling employees who have continuously worked for their employer for a period of at least 26 weeks to make a flexible working application.

The regulations essentially mean that eligible employees have a right to request flexible working and employers have a duty to consider any applications (limited to one application per employee in a 12-month period). For more about the law on flexible working see here.

What are the benefits of flexible working?

Today employees want a better work-life balance and thanks to modern technology the possibility to work remotely or more flexibly is easy. Flexible working has benefits for both employee and employer. Here are some of them:

  • Productivity

Work gets done more effectively and efficiently when employees are offered greater flexibility. Research by Canada Life Group Insurance found that 30 per cent of employees are less productive at work due to high workloads and a pressure to perform. Comparatively, only 17 per cent of those who work from home regularly are affected by workplace stress.

Research on Flexibility in the Workplace, carried out by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) found that flexible working increased both personal and team effectiveness.

  • Cuts costs and overheads

Virgin Group boss, Richard Branson, is a staunch advocate of flexible working through his own experience of wanting to work less after his first child was born. Branson says that contrary to popular belief part-time employees and remote workers still have high productivity and engagement levels, and by reducing office space companies can save on overhead costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

Engagement and well-being increase when people can fit work and home life together and manage life’s transitions with the least amount of stress. ACAS report that employees who are allowed to work flexibly tend to demonstrate greater commitment and a willingness to give back to the business. Also, ACAS highlight that occupational stress is reduced through less work-life conflict.

  • Staff retention and attracting new talent

According to research by HSBC, nearly one on five workers (18%) leave their jobs as a direct result of poor work/life balance. Flexibility in the workplace is now more important to employees than ever before and has powerful sway when it comes to staff retention and attracting new talent.

In addition, flexible working allows talented mums, dads, carers and students the opportunity to bring much-needed skills to businesses. Many parents, carers and students take part-time jobs that under-utilise the skills they have to offer. Businesses embracing flexibility are reaping the rewards of this huge pool of untapped talent.

  • A culture of trust

Forward-thinking businesses are embracing the idea of a flexible work policy as part of their drive to create a positive culture based on trust. They get that happy motivated employees equate to increased productivity, satisfied customers and a healthy bottom line. Trust is at the heart of great culture.

For rigid managers who love to micro-manage, flexibility is a hard concept to grasp. But the revolution in flexible working is on its way as more and more businesses begin to see the benefits. Flexible working is one of the key answers to the productivity puzzle that plagues British business. Employees are demanding it. For business it is essential for success.

For more information on handling requests to work flexibly, see The right to request flexible working guide by ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)