Embracing flexible working practices; the why and the how

Does your practice embrace flexible working? Yuliana Topazly, founder of BuddyWith.org.uk, makes a strong case for considering it as a way of recruiting and retaining talent

The world of work has seen enormous technological and social changes which have forced companies to adapt in order to attract and sustain much needed talent. Despite positive changes made in political and legislative environments, more needs to be done to ensure flexibility and inclusivity is addressed in every workplace and integrated into the culture of companies.

Recent research conducted by Smarter Working Hub demonstrates the challenges: it found that 67% of employees wish they were offered flexible working; 56% of commuters feel stressed or flustered at least once a month – and 66% suffer this at least once a week; 70% of workers feel that offering flexible working makes a job more attractive to them and over half of people believe managers need to adapt their skills to manage a remote workforce.

So, what does flexibility in the workplace mean? 

Flexible working is a way of working that is tailored to suit the employee’s needs without compromising productivity – an alternative to traditional, set working hours. It could include working from home, flexible start and finish times, or job sharing, for example.

You should not view this as a challenge, but rather an opportunity. According to a recent report by Breathing Space, flexible working is likely to be the main way of working for more than 70% of employers by 2020. Every business needs to develop flexible working practices and understand how they can benefit their business and support their employees; it’s about developing modern working practices to fit the needs of 21st century employees.

Supporting recruitment and retention

The biggest benefit to organisations is that flexible working practices will help to recruit and retain experienced staff. Offering flexible hours widens the talent pool; currently, only six per cent of vacancies are advertised as flexible. Flexible practices also increase commitment and loyalty of staff members, which can lead to increased productivity.

Taskforce report highlights the benefits of flexible working for businesses, families, older workers, carers and a growing population who want a better balance between work and home life and, in the current business climate, there is an even stronger case for adapting flexible working practices.

A gap in the workforce market: parents

However, many organisations do not really understand flexible working. According to Wasp Barcode’s annual State of Small Business report, 50% of small businesses say hiring new employees is the top challenge they face. It’s the number one challenge for businesses with fewer than 499 employees, which is much greater than traditionally mentioned challenges such as increasing profits and cashflow.

‘Parents’ represent a great pool of talent; however, they are ignored by many businesses and, therefore, represent a missed opportunity. According to The Guardian, 40% of managers avoid hiring younger women to get around the issue and costs of maternity leave. ‘The cost of maternity leave is too high and women ‘aren’t as good at their jobs’ when they return, according to a survey of 500 managers.’

The tendency to overlook this segment of the workforce can be considered discrimination; an example of this might be where a woman returning from a maternity break is considered not to be fully committed to work and/or unable to keep up with workloads. The Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Act has partly helped parents in work but it has also contributed to the avoidance of employing this workforce-pool – the exception being ‘women in tech’.

It’s a shame that there seems to be a lack of information-sharing, training and support for businesses in this space. There are many ways small businesses can engage and encourage those in this position to work for and with them, as well as encouraging women to go back to work after having children.

What does the evidence say? Is flexible working beneficial?  

According to the Taskforce report businesses using remote working are seeing falling absenteeism and higher retention which leads to a reduction in costs; 65% of employers said flexible working practices had a positive effect on recruitment and retention, thereby saving on recruitment, induction and training costs.

Businesses report increased productivity and greater loyalty amongst staff – 70% of employers noted some or significant improvement in employee relations.

There is also evidence that flexible working benefits not only employers and employees but also customers – this according to a Flexible Working Guide from www.workingmums.co.uk. In our increasingly global environment, with rising customer expectations of service levels and access to products, offering flexible working may well mean that you can adapt more effectively to your customers’ needs.

What are the options for the flexible working? 

Unfortunately, a lot of businesses think this is just about part-time work and flexible hours – it’s actually a lot more flexible than that. The Working Mums’ guide outlines that it can include:

  • part-time hours;
  • flexi-time;
  • compressed working hours;
  • job sharing;
  • shift work;
  • working from home;
  • career breaks;
  • annual hours.

Companies offering flexible working opportunities to all employees, irrespective of legal obligations, find that their employee engagement and satisfaction ratings are higher and have a good reputation for balancing business and employee needs. It is time for businesses to realise the benefits of flexible working and look at introducing these practices in order to support growth and attract and retain the talent they need.

About the author
 Yuliana Topazly is founder of BuddyWith.org.uk – a supportive community of parents and experts who are there to help each other, offer advice, and share experiences. See: www.BuddyWith.org.uk.

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