Making Flexible Working Work

The demands of modern living, together with technological advances, are eroding traditional work patterns, so flexible working should be prevalent in most 21st century organisations. Yet, in reality, it is taking much longer to make the cultural shift to fully integrate these more modern working practices into our businesses and making flexible working work.

So what is meant by flexible working?

It is a generic term used to describe a wide range of work styles and employment practices that give people flexibility on how long, where and when they work. In 2014, the right to formally request flexible working in the UK was extended to all employees, not just to parents, guardians and carers.

How common is flexible working?

In a 2018 Deloitte Timewise study, three quarters of respondents said their current or most recent employer offered some elements of flexible working. However, in the same survey a third felt they were regarded as less important and a quarter felt they had missed out on a promotion compared to full-time working colleagues. This is supported by an IFS study about the gender wage gap stating that mothers suffer big long-term pay penalties from part-time working.

According to a 2018 nationwide YouGov study only 6% of those surveyed stated they were actually working traditional 9 to 5 hours. Yet, nearly three quarters expressed a desire to work more flexibly and 65% felt flexible working would improve their well-being and satisfaction at work. Achieving a work-life balance is increasingly high on many people’s agenda, but it appears that a move away from 9 to 5 hours does not necessarily equate to quality flexible work that is integrated and valued.

In the recent CIPD’s Megatrends: Flexible Working report the number of people using formal flexible work arrangements, such as part-time working, term-time working, annualised hours, flexi-time, compressed hours, home-working, mobile working and job-sharing, has actually stagnated, suggesting a problem with perception and implementation.

Why bother with flexible working?

The reasons for encouraging organisations to re-think job roles and encourage more flexible working are many:

  • addresses skill and labour shortages
  • increases productivity
  • improves staff motivation and engagement
  • reduces staff turnover
  • tackles health and well-being issues
  • closes gender pay gaps
  • creates more diverse workforces

How can you overcome flexible working problems?

In reality, it can be problematic and challenging, particularly for small employers and those operating in retail, service and manufacturing, to accommodate different flexible work patterns. Here are a few suggestions to help overcome some of the difficulties:

  • Establish new management styles based on trust and output
  • Critically evaluate job roles and look for ways to introduce more flexible work elements
  • Include flexible working options in more job adverts, regardless of level or pay grade
  • Explore different shift pattern combinations in consultation with employees and unions
  • Ensure core business, servicing or opening hours are justified and clearly explained
  • Use technology to arrange and host company or team meetings
  • Introduce different measures of performance that can work across different work patterns
  • Invest in HR management software and/or shift scheduling software to manage more complex work patterns
  • Address early on, any perceived issues of unfairness between people doing traditional and flexible work
  • Agree a fair and transparent system for managing multiple requests for flexible working
  • Provide equal access to development and promotion opportunities
  • Build a collaborative and supportive team culture

Modern working is moving towards managing energy rather than time (outputs rather than inputs), so regardless of sector, location or gender, the biggest challenge is how to factor in a degree of individual flexibility whilst harnessing team collaboration and maintaining or increasing productivity levels.

The progressive employer will be the one that is willing to question and experiment with current working practices, while looking at adopting flexible solutions with their staff, to actively encourage different but tailored and effective ways of working. If you want to explore new ways of working, give me a call or drop me an email.

Further resources on flexible working include:


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