The topic of flexible working has gone unaddressed in parliament, according to Nick de Bois, former MP for Enfield North and former chief of staff to Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.
Speaking at the Quinyx Workforce Management Day event, he said: “There are so many issues we need to look at that have absolutely nothing to do with Brexit. The fact is that productivity and flexible working just are not on the lips of politicians."
He added: “They are not championing it because it isn’t very sexy. Parliament is quite backwards; we have antiquated laws around redundancy and new mothers. But the time has never been better for the government to become an advocate and for employers to become practitioners.”
Employers should take the opportunity to put flexible working on MPs’ agendas, de Bois encouraged, adding his support for adopting a four-day working week.
“As employers you need to educate legislators. MPs are actually expected to vote for things they frankly have no, or very little, knowledge about. Exploit their weaknesses and look at this as an opportunity to drive the agenda on issues you are passionate about,” he said.
“I think if the government tried to legislate on happiness it would probably fail," he added. "We’ve started to look at flexibility as a left/right issue, to our detriment. I’m a Conservative but I’m a huge fan of the four-day working week.”
There was also a panel discussion at the event, which explored why employers should avoid perks and be more strategic when it comes to wellbeing.
Speaking on the panel, Samantha Clarke, lecturer at the School of Life and founder of the Growth and Happiness School, said: “It really doesn’t have to be an expensive game. You don’t have to be Google, and in fact we’ve seen that these companies often get things very wrong. They try to create a fun atmosphere with a lot of gimmicks but all that happens is people feel they can’t leave the office – they’re on a treadmill and can’t get off – and eventually end up burnt out."
Sh added: “Sometimes organisations need to take a step back when thinking about employee happiness. Think to yourself: are they communicating? Do they feel they can progress, and do they know how to? There is also lots of science about the importance of workplace friendships and good relationships with line managers.”
Mark Price, former managing director of Waitrose and member of the House of Lords, added that employers must look at happiness strategically: “Happiness is not something nebulous; it is a real thing that we can measure and nurture. We know that it can lower absence rates and increase productivity, so how have some employers still not got the message that this is a good thing commercially? I agree that happiness can’t be about beer and bean bags, we’ve got to look at pay and we’ve got to [look at] flexibility.”