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

09 October 2018

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.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.