Flexible working is good for both employees and business

25 October 2018 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read

The days of 9-5 being the normal working pattern are truly over. We now live in a digitally connected global economy that operates 24/7. As a result, more and more people are working flexibly. Work flexibility is a lifesaver for many employees, who would otherwise find it hard to manage work with study, family and other lifestyle and care commitments.

Flexibility in working hours can be great for both employees and employers, according to a number of research results, though the way 'flexibility' is structured and implemented strongly impacts outcomes. Meanwhile, poor work-life balance can be bad for businesses in myriad ways.

Stressed, over-worked employees are more likely to take time off sick and more likely to quit. There is also a stack of evidence to show that over-worked employees are less engaged and productive. One study, conducted by HR consultancy Mercer, found that in the US, employee stress is costing employers over $250 billion in lost time alone.

Flexible working

So what is flexible working and what are the mistakes employers are making with flexible working policies? Flexible working is any working pattern that deviates from the normal working pattern. It’s a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, such as flexible start and finish times or working from home. Examples include:

  • A flexitime arrangement with core hours and flexibility on hours outside of the core period
  • Compressed hours with the total number of hours worked over fewer days
  • Annual hours contract where a given number of hours are worked over the year at the discretion of the employee
  • Staggered hours, which allows employees to start and finish at different times
  • Job sharing, where one job is shared between two people. Employees may share the workload by working alternate days, half weeks or half days
  • Shift work, part-time work or term-time work

Flexible working is good for both employees and business

The law on flexible working

The Flexible Working Law was passed in the UK on 30th June 2014. Since the law on flexible working was passed, employers must consider requests from all eligible employees to work flexibly (not just parents and carers). To qualify, employees must have been working for 26 continuous weeks and not made another application for flexible working within the previous 12 months. Both part-time and full-time workers can apply for flexible working.

The ACAS code of practice for ‘Handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly’ is a good starting point for employers. For employees, the Citizens Advice Service have an informative guide to what flexible working is and how to ask for flexible working, including eligibility requirements.

Getting flexible working right

Many employers believe that flexible working makes good business sense. It offers them the chance to operate with extended working hours, save on overheads when staff work from home, reduce sickness absence, attract diverse talent, improve staff retention and more. Unfortunately, there are still many businesses where flexible working is seen as purely an employee perk. Despite the benefits of flexible working for both employee and employer, there are still many employers who don’t promote flexible working practices.

Social media training firm, Digital Mums, found that more than half of UK employees feel that asking for flexible working would be perceived negatively by employers. Suspicious employers who micromanage staff still seem to think that ‘working from home’ is an excuse for an employee to spend more time on the sofa watching TV. These may seem like outdated management views, but the truth is they still exist. Why else would there only be a 12% uptake when in fact 68% of employees want to ask for flexible working?

This lack of uptake is confirmed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), who report that the uptake of flexible working has largely plateaued in the last decade, even though the right to request flexible working has been extended to all. CIPD say this could be due to various reasons, including a lack of understanding and support from business leaders and line managers, or because of long-ingrained working cultures of presenteeism and traditional standard working hours.

Research from the Smarter Working Initiative reveals that three quarters of UK employees now consider flexible working as a favourable option when selecting a new role. Businesses not on board with flexible working could be inadvertently deterring the best talent. A recent study by charity Working Families, found that 30% of part-time workers contracted to work 25 hours a week are putting in enough hours to qualify as full-time workers. Organisations fostering a culture of long working hours are creating an environment where staff burnout and high staff turnover is more likely.

Embracing flexible working could come with significant benefits to economy and society. A recent analysis by London-based recruitment consulting firm Feel, showed that British businesses could gain £1.3 trillion in earnings annually by bringing mothers back to work.

Flexible working is meant to support employees in achieving a better work-life balance. Flexible working isn’t just good for employees, it is good for business. The sooner employers understand the importance of employee work-life balance, the sooner they will benefit from a happier, more productive workforce.

Related: UK workers favour four-day week and increased remote working.

About the author: Portsmouth-based Annie Button English is a Literature graduate and writes for various online publications, specialising in business and career development.