Flexible working should be for the many, not the few

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A great post highlighting the benefits of flexible working to retain top talent and develop a competitive advantage. Yet, all to often organisations are over-looking this benefit for the wider ...


Read More Louise Frayne
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Forget the misconception that flexible working is a benefit reserved only for the career mum. The working practice should be extended to all employees and discussed early on in the hiring process in order to attract and retain talent

Flexible working is by no means a new concept. Yet despite the UK government introducing legislation a year ago to make flexible working a reality for all, there’s a general perception that it largely benefits the career mum looking to juggle work and home life. While many sectors have become more open to embracing flexible working, having a frank discussion with potential new joiners about whether this working practice caters to their needs doesn’t seem to factor into the hiring process.

If the benefits of flexible working are widely known, then why aren't we encouraging all employees to take advantage, regardless of gender or seniority? As the retirement age increases we risk workers suffering from corporate burnout by perpetuating the 'working harder means working longer' stereotype.

We all have personal commitments and situations that are important and unique to us. If we choose to we should all be able to shift our normal working patterns, work from home, or even book doctor’s appointments within working hours. Instead of working harder and longer we need to be working smarter, and that means being flexible to the needs of employees and ensuring they are as productive as they can possibly be. For this to happen there needs to be a shift in the perception of flexible working.

How do we break the stereotypes? One way is by addressing the tough love mentality some businesses allow to dominate working culture. Nobody likes to be told to ‘man up’ or ‘power through’, people are unique individuals who have their limits, not machines with no emotion. I’ve witnessed many male colleagues over the years sit and ‘tough it out’ simply because they believe they have to. Yet men have exactly the same needs as women when it comes to achieving some sort of work/life balance – 'suffering in silence' and toughing out the nine to five slog is a misguided show of strength that needs to be reassessed.

In addition, encouraging flexibility from the point of hire is crucial to maintaining a productive, motivated and happy workforce, as well as attracting and retaining talent. According to the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index only 6.2% of UK job adverts actually mention or offer flexible working as a benefit. Instead of asking new employees how they want to work and building a role that suits them, staff feel like they need to ‘do their time’ before they can consider asking for an altered working pattern, which only perpetuates the flexible working misconceptions of having to work later or have a ‘serious’ commitment in order to be afforded the opportunity.

Flexible working can benefit any employee. While some sectors will require workers to be physically present in order to go about their day-to-day tasks, performance is based on skill rather than geographical location. With a good broadband connection, phone line and computer people can be empowered to perform anywhere. Requesting time off to accommodate a longer appointment, or asking to work from home shouldn’t be seen as a weakness or an inconvenience. Instead it’s indicative of an employee who knows how and when they work best, and employers should be nurturing this commendable self-awareness to best effect.

Narelle Morrison is managing director at Babel PR

Comments

A great post highlighting the benefits of flexible working to retain top talent and develop a competitive advantage. Yet, all to often organisations are over-looking this benefit for the wider workforce, preferring instead to believe that flexible working is only applicable to working parents and/or carers.


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There are specific situations where some types of flexibility cannot work. Richard Branson talks of flexibility within the Virgin Group but I am sure would not allow a pilot to work from home on a Friday afternoon. I do, however, agree that it should be the preserve of many to work where, when and how, as needed. It is far more common now for employees to fuse work and life effectively - dipping into work during free time and into life during work time. Be it checking and responding to emails from the sofa or booking your holidays when in the office. The basis of flexibility is trust - trust that the employee will do the right thing and complete their tasks and trust that the employer won't feel the need to engage in an overbearing monitoring process to validate time worked. My experience is that where there is a common trust in the employer-employee relationship, the organisation is the net winner, creating an engaged and effective employee whose net effort is beyond any core hours expectation.


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A great post by a well informed author. Flexible working is on the increase, and its something we often cover on HR News. Repeated studies have shown that flexible workers are usually more productive and more loyal, yet many employers offering it see it as a grudging 'nod' to women rather than something that can benefit the business. Paul is right, in that not every job lends itself well to flexible working, however for those that do, it needs to be more widely embraced, and I expect this year will see more employers offering home working.


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