Third of UK staff not given the flexibility and support required to do their job

09 October 2018 5 min. read

A third of UK workers believe they are not given the flexibility and support they need to do their job properly, according to a new survey of adults in Britain. Lower income workers reported slightly worse results in this respect, while respondents in Wales reported the lowest levels of flexibility, while Scotland saw the most positive results.

An ageing population depleting the workforce and high employment, alongside the matter of Brexit making it more difficult to source labour from abroad, increasingly sees human resources departments tasked with finding new ways to source talent. A competitive market, with a growing number of new, digitally capable start-ups has put further pressure on HR professionals to improve their offerings for prospective staff, especially in regards to workers who possess vital digital skills.

To explore what employers can do to improve their productivity and staff retention in this climate, HR and payroll supplier MHR has analysed the results of a recent YouGov survey into employees’ views on company culture. The poll of 1174 UK employees questioned their true thoughts about their employers and company culture. The results revealed that while business leaders are increasingly moving to accommodate the needs of staff to improve engagement with their firms, there is still a long way to go in terms of workplace flexibility.

UK workers who feel they are given the necessary degree of flexibility to do their job

Around a third of UK staff feel that they are not currently given the necessary flexibility to adequately complete their work. When asked if bosses made allowance for such manoeuvrability, 21% said they tended to disagree, while a further 11% said they strongly disagree. Proportionally, working class respondents were less likely to be permitted flexibility at work.

According to the YouGov results, 34% of people residing in the C2DE segment of society (in contrast to 29% of middle-class ABC1 respondents) said to some extent that they did not think they were allowed the necessary amount of flexibility. While this socioeconomic class includes skilled manual workers, semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers, casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners, and others who depend on the welfare state for their income, it is important to note that this only reflects the job they currently hold, rather than whether they have the skills for other kinds of work.

Nearly half of all UK graduates languish in jobs that do not require graduate skills, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. So, for example, while someone may be working as a barista, which is defined as unskilled or ‘casual’ work, large number of these staff will have skills which could be applied elsewhere. With heightened competition in the job market, by failing to allow adequate flexibility in such a role, along with the notoriously low wages of the sector, employers make it less likely they will retain such labour, and face spiralling recruitment and training costs as a result.

In terms of regional figures, Wales saw the worst results by some distance. More than 41% of employees said that they disagreed to some extent with the statement that their employers allowed adequate flexibility. This was closely followed by Northern Ireland, at 38%. By contrast, London, which hosts arguably the largest and most diverse hub of jobs in the country, sees just a quarter of respondents stated they do not have enough flexibility. Surprisingly, though, this is not the lowest rate; with the capital being surpassed at 24%. Of these responses, only 4% said they had strong feelings on the matter, too, seeing Scotland by far the best performer in that regard.

Workers who disagree that their workplace allows suitable flexibility, by region

Speaking on the results of the study, Asimina Stamatiou, an employee engagement expert at MHR, said, “At a time when the UK has a serious productivity problem, many organisations are failing to give their company culture the attention it deserves and implement the working practices that support the wellbeing and expectations of their employees… The research shows that the key to a happy workforce is trusting employees and giving them the flexibility to take ownership of their work but supporting them when they need it.”

Stamatiou added, “Empowering employees to manage themselves and fit their work around their commitments at home, while investing the time to regularly engage with them personally, results in a happy, loyal and productive workforce who are less likely to leave the organisation.”

This backs up further research from office resource firm Viking, which found that a majority of UK employees now favour a four-day week. At the same time, almost six in 10 want the option to work remotely at least some of the time. Despite this, more than 40% of workers feel their company does not make remote working a regular option for them, despite the growing appetite for workplace flexibility, and the tightening competition to obtain and retain labour.