Flexible Working: Why Businesses Need To Flex Up
The way we are working is changing. The 9-5 drill is increasingly becoming obsolete: 63% of full-time employees already work flexibly in some way.
But what is flexitime or flexible working? Flexible working refers to any working pattern which is different to your existing one. It covers more than working from home and is available to all employees.
Under UK legislation all employees have the legal right to request flexible working -not just parents/ carers.
Flexible working arrangements could include (but not limited to):
- Changing from working full-time to part-time
- Changing your working hours to fit with e.g. school/college hours, care arrangements etc.
- Compressed hours (working your usual hours in fewer days)
- Working from home
- Job sharing
- Starting and finishing work at different hours
But despite flexible working becoming an increasingly standard practice across all sectors and industries it is still stigmatised.
Flexism is discrimination against people who work flexibly or want to work flexibly. Flexism can take many different forms. Many parents will probably be accustomed to receiving strange looks when leaving the office earlier to pick up a sick child or to do the school run.
It’s also what people experience when they feel they can’t ask for flexible working for fear of being stigmatised. This is especially evident with part-time workers. According to Timewise’s survey two-thirds of respondents feel less connected to their own teams because social events are harder to make. Likewise, just over half of respondents said they felt they had fallen behind full-time colleagues in terms of skills and knowledge.
The fear of asking for flexible working is also prevalent amongst younger workers with 92% wanting to work flexibly.
Our working culture is still largely deeply rooted in an archaic, rigid model with no flexibility for when meetings, training, networking and socials should take place. Thereby isolating individuals who choose or want to work flexibly.
30% of surveyed flexible workers said they felt they were regarded as less important, with one-quarter saying that there given fewer opportunities than their peers who work traditional hours.
There is the assumption that face-to-face time is critical to demonstrate one is hard-working, committed and reliable. Yet, with only 27% of all UK employees (full- and part-time) working a traditional full-time pattern with no flexibility, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this no longer holds true.
The Stats Say It Is Time To Flex Up
Who wants to work flexibly? It’s not just women with carer responsibilities. Anna Whitehouse – founder of website Mother Pukka – has been spearheading the fight for flexible working claiming it is a people’s issue and one that shouldn’t be just attached to parents wanting to see more of their little ones. Anna has launched the Flex Appeal in order to challenge our archaic 9-5 system. Flexible working makes good economic sense: it’s better for employees’ wellbeing and it’s better for profits.
Both men and women have a strong preference for flexible working. 84% of men in full-time work either already work flexibly or want to.
There are still significant barriers to access flexible working even when companies have a policy on flexible working. This is especially prominent when analysing male employee’s effective utilisation of flexible working. When men do ask (only 27%), men are twice as likely to be rejected.
It’s essential if we’re to successfully challenge gender-based discrimination in the workplace to offer flexible working for men and create a culture where flexible working is the norm for both men and women.
Training for the marathon could be one reason for flexible working.
Why do people want to work flexibly? There’s a range of reasons why people want to work flexibly.
- Work/life balance
- General convenience
- Commuting issues
- Leisure or study commitments
- Caring responsibilities
- Other work commitments
- Health or disability
Flexibility is not just a child care issue, even amongst part-time workers. For example, 48% of part-time workers cite work/life balance compared to 35% who cite caring responsibilities for wanting to work flexibly.
Organisations with a flexible working policy could encourage senior members of staff who use it to share their reasons for working flexibly. This can help cultivate a culture that positively embeds flexible working into the core of the organisation.
What’s the business case for flexible working?
It’s generally accepted that flexible working helps improve employees’ wellbeing and engagement, increasing productivity, reduce business cost through absenteeism and make better use of office space.
Presenteeism – working when you’re not meant to, for example, ignoring medical advice when ill to stay home and not work – is a costly business. UK employers are on average losing 27.5 days per employee annually due to time taken off sick or underperformance at work
Flexible working can help improve wellbeing and create a healthy workplace. If people could improve their work-life balance they will feel less likely they need to come into work.
Flexible working should not be regarded as a privilege based on tenure nor should it be associated with just women with carer responsibilities. Organisations across industries need to flex up their approach to the way their employees work to cultivate a more inclusive culture based on promoting health and wellbeing.