Empowering the forgotten workforce with flexibility

Since the pandemic, office workers have seen a shift in their working life. Many now have the flexibility to work from home and more freedom in choosing their hours to accommodate personal commitments, among other benefits.

But with 75% of UK workers not working in an office, has the other side of the UK workforce been forgotten when it comes to improving the employee experience?

Flexible working may not be the revolution it seems

Flexible working: what HR needs to know to make it work

Shift workers lacking flexibility offered in job adverts

Research shows that two thirds (67%) of businesses believe flexibility is crucial when it comes to competing for the most sought-after skills.

Additionally, 65% know they need to play the ‘flexibility game’ to attract the right people.

But, when it comes to those working in non-office-based roles, sometimes the same adjustments cannot be maintained, such as the ability to work from home or work to flexible hours, as certain people will need to be on-site within set working hours.

Flexibility is not as straightforward for many non-office environments.

Businesses in sectors such as manufacturing or retail, for instance, would need to hire more staff to fill the potential gaps left by those who would work flexible hours to ensure no downtime or loss in productivity.

In other words, in many cases, offering the same level of flexibility many office workers enjoy could result in additional indirect costs or the need for extra resources for those working non-office roles.

This is not a cost that many businesses are willing or able to absorb, especially in the current financial climate, and for those that aren’t able to offer such flexibility, other solutions to retain staff are needed.

Those in industries where shift work is common, still need to offer a positive employee experience.

In order to fill the flexibility gap, businesses with non-office workers need to look at what else they can offer to keep employees from feeling like they have been forgotten about.

For instance, offering benefits such as the opportunity for career development is a good way to not only retain staff, but also ensure that workers feel they are valued and are a long-term business investment.

Offering apprenticeships or training that will help staff to develop within your company can also be an effective method that improves the employee experience.

As part of research conducted for Reed's annual Salary Guides, we found that those in manufacturing and hospitality are less likely to want flexible working as a benefit, and would instead prefer a performance bonus.

In addition, those working in hospitality and retail are much more likely to want brand discounts from their workplace as opposed to professionals in other sectors.

People working in roles that involve manual labour are much more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal conditions and workplace injuries, whereas predominantly office-based employers are more likely to report stress as the main health concern among staff.

As a result, flexible working may help office workers with managing their stress levels and balancing their work and personal life, but offering private insurance or healthcare options for those with a manual labour focus would be more beneficial.

All in all, it is best for businesses that look after non-office workers to communicate with employees and pinpoint what would make them feel valued and happy at work.

Those in non-office roles often understand that the nature of their work will come with some restrictions on flexibility, especially when it comes to the location and hours they work.

As a result, instead, offering other relevant benefits is certainly the key to improving employee experience.

Karen Jackson is HR director at Reed