It's inevitable that the "face" of flexible working tends to be female when you consider that women bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities and account for 85 per cent of the UK's part-time workforce. But if we are to achieve true equality in the workplace and make the most of all the talent available, attitudes need to change on how, where and when work can be done.
It is not just women who might need flexibility in how they work. This applies equally to both genders. It's about giving people the ability to cope with the changing and often unpredictable demands that are placed upon them.
Despite legislation that obliges companies to take flexible working seriously as a viable approach to inclusion, a recent survey showed that more than half of managers viewed flexible working as something to be tolerated or ignored, while nearly 20 per cent of them actively discouraged it.
The truth is that flexible working makes business sense. Our ability to offer flexibility helps us to attract and retain the best people. This is particularly important when it comes to retention as we recruit and promote mostly from within. It also increases job satisfaction, employee engagement and productivity, while decreasing absenteeism.
At Enterprise, we introduced a company-wide flexible working programme ten years ago. This was after we discovered that employees were leaving the company as their personal situations changed and they needed to devote more time to their families. Flexibility became a priority for them and they weren't afraid to look elsewhere for more a flexible opportunity that suited their circumstances.
In recent years, we have seen the number of male staff applying for more flexible work arrangements increase and are seeing benefits to our business from introducing a flexible working programme which is open to all employees. There are a number of men in our organisation that work flexibly (hours or days), work from home and/or have primary childcare or caring responsibilities.
Instead of using the traditional label of 'flexible working', at Enterprise we describe them as 'alternative work arrangements' (AWAs). Our AWA programme goes beyond the Government requirements for 'flexible working' and provides the opportunity for both the employee and company to review the arrangement every six months.
And it's not just staff with families looking for a better balance. Both our male and female graduates coming into work expect to have a balance and they aren't shy about asking for it.
Of course, we are not discounting the fact that at the moment flexibility is a key strategy that supports women in reaching the boardroom and that more women work part-time or alternative hours than men. Gender equality is an integral part of our business strategy and we run a number of initiatives to support women through their careers.
The fact is that every single one of us has commitments outside work, but those employees who achieve a work / life balance are more productive. As our MD says: "It's not about the amount of time that someone spends at work, it's about the quality of the work they produce."
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