Fact: Everyone has the right to request flexible working (so long as you’ve been with your employer at least 26 weeks).
It’s not – as many still believe – just for mothers seeking part-time hours after maternity leave.
Flexible working should be the norm for everyone, everywhere, no matter what your job, age, gender or parent/non-parent status.
The simple reason is because it’s better for your personal work life balance, your physical and mental health and your family. But, crucially, it’s also much better for the business bottom line.
There’s a mountain of rock-solid research proving flexible working increases productivity, engagement and staff retention, all of which are good for business. Even the biggest doubters know that moving beyond the traditional 9am to 5pm model is worth a look.
Two of our recent award winners (Scottish Top Employers for Working Families 2018) prove – again – that flexibility benefits the business just as much as the employees. One, a digital design studio in Glasgow, has a six-hour working day and increased productivity by 40 per cent as a result. While the other increased productivity by 29 per cent by offering a four-day working week.
But despite this evidence, people still put off asking for, or offering, flexible working because of outdated myths about what flexible working actually entails and who’s ‘allowed’ to ask for it.
Flexible working is a much more holistic concept than simply reducing someone’s hours. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ policy and there are all manner of ways of working flexibly. Of course, that does include part-time working. But it also includes compressed hours, changes in start or finish times, job-sharing, options over where people work including remote or home-working. Some people even have different working arrangements in school holidays.
In Scotland, our research shows it’s often the little things that make the biggest difference to people’s lives when it comes to the type of flexibility they want. Almost half (49%) of Scottish workers we surveyed (via YouGov) said changing their start and/or finish time would help and nearly a third (32%) would like occasional time off for things like family emergencies, deliveries or school events.
Sometimes we hear employers are worried about how they would plug gaps in expected service if staff work flexibly. But we’re not asking businesses to take a hit. Flexible working should enhance a business, not hinder it. What we are asking is that employers create a culture where employees feel comfortable asking questions about how, when and where they work and the employer will work with them to find a solution that benefits everyone, rather than simply saying ‘this is the standard work model you must fit in to’.
Our own research shows the desire to work flexibly has certainly out-grown the ‘part-time working mothers’ category that many people still associate it with. We found working men and women, parents (of children aged 18 and under) and non-parents all say that they either already work flexibly, or would if they had access to it (75%, 82%, 84%, 72% respectively).
Progressive employers are reaping the benefits of this increased desire by not only working with current employees to find beneficial working arrangements but by offering flexibility upfront in their recruitment processes. This means they can tap into a much larger talent pool of would-be workers who are effectively blocked from positions elsewhere because they need a degree of flexibility in how, when or where they work. Pursuit Marketing reported a 500 per cent increase in the number of unsolicited job applications after it introduced its four-day week.
Many smart employers are also moving to an ‘agile’ working model where staff have the technology and services they need to work anywhere, any time. The business manages outputs and outcomes rather than simply the number of hours spent in the office.
It allows employees to work flexibly around their home life with all the benefits that brings. But it’s also good for the business in increasing productivity as well as reducing the need for expensive office space.
Flexible working is arguably the smart way to work now. Nearly half (46%) of Scottish workers can currently work in a flexible way, so while we are making good progress, there is clearly more to be done to convince more employers and employees to convert. Honest discussions are the best starting point and I hope this blog helps start some positive conversations.