The days when flexible working was the preserve of the busy Mum are gone. Uptake these days is far broader. We know that more Dads are opting to share the childcare responsibilities but recent figures show that across both genders a new breed of flexible worker is springing up whose motivations go beyond the need to care for children. Indeed, “The Future of Work” report published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in 2014 said that 92 % of Generation Y (people born between 1980 and 2000 who have grown up almost entirely in the digital age) identify flexibility as a top priority when selecting a workplace
What are the facts about this growing proportion of the working population and what does it mean for employers?
- Last year the law was changed so that all workers can now request flexible working. Recent figures by the Office for National Statistics showed that almost a million men now work part-time and it’s not just Dads. In actual fact it’s the older age bracket where the numbers are higher with 38% of those choosing to do part time work being in their 50s and 60s.
- Flexible workers have been shown to be both happier and healthier, resulting in improved employee loyalty and lower staff turnover. A recent study by Professor Andy Charlwood at Loughborough University found that employer policies that allow workers more flexibility to determine their own hours in line with their preferences materially enhance well-being levels.
- This in turn leads to greater productivity. Research by The University of Warwick and IZA Bonn found that happier people had 12% greater productivity, a view shared by Sarah Jackson, chief executive of the work-life balance organisation Working Families; “It’s not flexible hours in themselves which are beneficial, it’s the feeling of control it gives people. Studies have shown that if staff members have this and feel that they are trusted, they work for you better”. Moreover a 2013 report by the Think Tank RSA concluded that 5.1 productive hours per week could be gained per employee by adopting flexible working equating to c. £4200 per annum per employee.
- Statistics on the number of jobs advertising flexibility are still disappointing. A recent report by Timewise showed that typically only 6% of job advertisements had any mention of flexibility. Also and perhaps not surprisingly, the opportunities for flexible working decline at higher salary levels.
- Companies can pay lip service to their flexible work offering but not deliver in reality. In research on flexible working and Dads, Caroline Gatrell, a senior lecturer at Lancaster University Management School states “Many fathers are disappointed when trying to access family-friendly working opportunities because these are refused…. They feel resentful if employers are winning awards for ‘paper policies’ that do not work in practice for individual dads.”
- Employees, especially men, it seems, can still feel a stigma attached to flexible working. Negative perceptions amongst colleagues still exist and recent studies support this. Changes in legislation will help to move things forward but a cultural shift is needed as well to remove the perception amongst co-workers that flexible working is the preserve of the unambitious. The more that Execs can demonstrate their buy-in to the concept and lead from the front, the better.
So while the trend for flexible working is positive and the benefits for both employee and employer clear to see, it seems we still have a long way to go to reap the benefits of agile working practices.