The term ‘flexible working’ often strikes fear into the hearts of managers. The very idea that staff could be allowed to work hours of their choosing and, at any point in time, decide to finish early or come in late appears to be entirely counterproductive.
However, research by the Lancaster University Work Foundation has revealed that over half of UK businesses are set to offer flexible working options for staff in 2017.
Flexible working isn’t a ticket to procrastination and stunted productivity. When implemented correctly, it should have the exact opposite effect, and that’s for one very good reason – the work-life balance.
The fabled ‘work-life balance’
This is something most people strive for, but the reasons for doing so are often misconstrued.
As soon as someone says “I’d like a better work-life balance”, it’s all to easy to assume they’re simply after an easier life, work-wise, and would much rather spend as little time as possible at the coal face.
For some, this may be true, but in the main, an improved work-life balance is a desire to become more productive both at home and within the workplace. For the latter, that means doing the absolute best possible job, while the former centres around spending more time with loved ones and getting those jobs at home done that are usually put off due to mounting work commitments.
Finding the right work-life balance is incredibly difficult when working strict hours, because although familiarity and consistency should foster a healthy approach to work, the inevitability of working longer hours than intended often disrupts home life.
What is flexible working?
So, the likelihood is the staff within your business want to find the perfect work-life balance. Thankfully, there’s a solution, and it comes in the form of flexible working. But what is it, exactly?
Put simply, flexible working is a way of distributing the hours of a working week so that they best suit the employee. This usually results in variable start and finish times, thus doing away with the traditional ‘9 to 5’.
Every employee has the legal right to request flexible working arrangements, thanks to laws outlined by the government, and there are a number of types of flexible working that can be implemented:
• Job share. One role with the hours split between two workers.
• Homeworking. Some or all of the work is completed from the employee’s home.
• Part-time. Fewer days worked during the working week.
• Flexitime. A very common form of flexible working where core working hours are established, but employees choose when they start and finish.
• Compressed. Full-time hours are worked, but over fewer days.
What works for your business will depend largely on the industry within which you operate, the role in question and the individual circumstances of each employee.
The law simply asks that businesses take an honest and fair approach to any request for flexible working, by dealing with them in a ‘reasonable manner’ and assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each application.
However, that all sounds a bit one-sided. There really is an argument for businesses to be far more proactive about flexible working by creating a culture that accepts it.
The benefits of flexible working
Let’s consider the benefits of flexible working for both employer and employee.
1. Happier employees
Happy employees are productive employees, and if you can create a culture where flexible working is not only accepted but encouraged, staff will soon realise that they can become the masters of their own happiness by not being bound by stringent working rules.
2. Less likelihood of expensive overtime
Overtime doesn’t come cheap, and if the business is having to invest continually in it, something’s wrong.
There are often entirely acceptable reasons for implementing overtime; an unusually large project with a tight deadline is a prime example, but more often than not, it’s down to decreased productivity during normal working hours.
Which brings us onto the next point…
3. Higher productivity levels
If staff are happier due to the fact they can dictate the hours they work and (if you decide to implement home working) where they get stuff done, they will become more productive. It really is that simple.
Most people (with the occasional exception) do want to work for a living, and take great pride in what they do. Providing they’re given the flexibility which grants adequate time to do the things they love outside of work, their desire to finish every day to the best of their ability will increase.
4. Better staff retention
Reducing staff churn isn’t simply about paying market-rate wages and big bonuses – people want to feel valued, too. And, if the culture of the business isn’t afraid to hand the reins over to staff when it comes to working hours and locations, most will repay in dedication and commitment.
A flexible business is a great place to work, which is why moving away from stringent 9-5 working hours is a great way to bolster staff retention.
5. Reduction in carbon footprint
The benefits of running a green business are numerous, and if flexible working is introduced which allows staff to work from home when most convenient, the overall carbon footprint of the business will be reduced. Fewer people in the office means less cars on the road, and that can only be a good thing.
Wrapping up: how to build a culture of flexible working
By now, we’ve hopefully convinced you that flexible working is beneficial to both the business and its staff. And, while it may not be for every organisation, it shouldn’t be forgotten that every employee has a legal right to request flexible working, which is why HR teams should be ready to deal with them fairly.
If you’d rather avoid putting the onus on the employees and feel that flexible working will suit your business perfectly, the trick lies in creating a culture that embraces it. Thankfully, doing so is relatively easy and can be boiled down to the following methods:
1. Make it a prominent feature in job postings
When advertising for new positions, make sure a good deal of the advert is dedicated to the fact that you encourage flexible working. In doing so, you’ll attract the right kind of people – i.e. those who would much rather be productive than procrastinate.
2. Use it as a selling tool with clients
Flexible working isn’t something that should be kept within the four walls of the business. Make sure it’s positioned as a tool the sales team can use when wooing potential new clients; impress upon them the benefits of selling a business that trusts its staff implicitly to do the best job in the most modern of working environments.
3. Make it a prominent topic in reviews
Staff reviews are all about ensuring individual team members are happy and productive and exploring the reasons behind any lingering concerns. If flexible working is in place, it should dominate the review process, as it is the one element from which every aspect of the role will hang.
That’s it! Flexible working really isn’t the minefield many expect it to be. Use the tips and advice in this post to transform the working environment by allowing staff to be the masters of their own working week.