As someone who started campaigning for part-time and flexible working based on my own experiences, I have a personal interest in helping more employees find work that suits their needs. But I’m equally passionate about the benefits that flexible work can bring to business.
My personal flexible working journey started back in 2005 when, following the birth of my first child, I found myself out of a job. Not because I didn’t have the right skills, or experience, or commitment to my employer, but because I wanted to spend an extra day each week with my family.
Like many people, I wasn’t that clued up about flexible working until I needed it and it wasn’t there. But once I realised how challenging it was to find and keep quality flexible jobs, I decided to take action. Firstly, by setting up Women Like Us with my partner Karen Mattison, then going on to co-launch Timewise, a social enterprise created to grow the part-time and flexible jobs market and campaign for change.
So what have I learned in the intervening years? Well, the short answer is this: Most employees want to work flexibly and your business will benefit if you let them. And that isn’t just my opinion, it’s based on in-depth research and analysis from ourselves and other experts in the field.
And the long answer? More than I have room to explain here. But as a starting point, here are my top five reasons why employers need to get behind the concept of flexible working and start building it into their strategies, right now:
1. Almost everyone wants to work flexibly, and the demand is rising
Our research into who wants to work flexibly and why highlighted that 87 per cent of the UK’s full-time workforce either works flexibly already, or wish they could. The numbers are similarly high for men (84 per cent) and women (91 per cent) and they span the generations, with 72 per cent of baby boomers, 88 per cent of Generation X and 92 per cent of millennials preferring this way of working. So clearly, it’s not just a ‘mum thing’ or even a ‘parent thing’; in fact, childcare isn’t even one of the top three motivations. Having more control over work-life balance, finding it generally useful and cutting down on commuting time are all more commonly cited.
2.Employers who want the pick of the talent need to offer flexible working
It follows that if flexibility is something most people want, the candidates who can pick and choose will choose employers who offer it. So if you want to find, attract and keep the best employees, you need to build flexible working and flexible hiring into your talent strategy. This means making it clear in your job adverts that you are open to flexible working – currently, just under 10 per cent of jobs paying more than £20k are advertised in this way. It includes making sure that flexibility is available higher up the pipeline, so your rising stars have flexible jobs to progress to. And given the skills shortages that are starting to bite in an increasing number of industries, you should probably get a move on.
3.Flexible employers enjoy lower overheads and higher outputs
It’s not just your talent team who would reap the benefits of increased flexibility. Your finance team would no doubt be delighted by the impact flexible working can have on business overheads; reducing office space and cutting carbon footprints are common outcomes. And although there’s a widespread perception that part-time and flexible workers are less engaged and less productive, the opposite is true: productivity has been shown to go up, not down, when people work flexibly.
4. Flexible working is helping build a more equal society
From improving workplace diversity to encouraging social mobility, reducing in-work poverty and tackling welfare dependency, the social case for flexible working can’t be ignored. And as many businesses are finding right now, the lack of flexibility in senior roles has a negative impact on the gender pay gap. Flexible working also plays a huge part in delivering a manageable work-life balance, which in turn can alleviate some of the causes of stress, anxiety and poor mental health.
5. Job design is the key to making flexible working a success
Flexible working then, is a powerful tool for good – but only if it’s used properly. It’s not just a case of dishing out a laptop and letting someone work from home, or chopping a day off their working week and expecting the same output.
Truly flexible roles have flexibility built in rather than added on, and are designed to suit employers and employees alike. That’s the difference between just having a flexible working policy and having a flexible working strategy.
After 15 years in the flexible sphere, I’ve never felt more optimistic about the potential for flexible working; whilst the pace of change may be slower than I’d like, the growth in the number of forward-looking employers means that the workplace is finally starting to catch up. In the meantime, I’m continuing on my flexible working journey, working with employers to create innovative solutions that make good jobs flexible and flexible jobs good. Are you in?