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Is the 9 to 5 working day history? Flexible working now a must have for many

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Changing work patterns

9 in 10 people in the UK now want to work flexibly according to recent research. Demand spans both gender and generations driven by a variety of personal reasons. The option to flex is fast becoming an expectation from prospective employees rather than a nice to have.

For larger employers operating a 24/7 global culture, backed up by supportive technology, flexibility is becoming the norm. Flexible working is becoming essential as part of candidate attraction strategies any employer that wants to be truly competitive needs to have flexible working as standard. It’s a business imperative.

‘If you want to attract the best talent, you need to be prepared to shout about your approach to flexible working, not wait to be asked’

In 2016 McKinsey & Co  estimated that 162 million people in Europe and the US – between 20% and 30% of the working population – were engaged in some type of flexible work. 44% earned their main income from such activity.  By 2019 CIPD research found 54% of UK workers are already working flexibly in some way, More than half the workforce (55%) would like to work flexibly in at least one form that is not currently available to them.

Summary of business benefits in offering flexeible working
Source: CIPD 2019

Traditionally flexible working tended to be either part time or variable start times. Over time the scope of what we mean by flexible working has extended to cover:

  • Part-time work
  • Job-sharing
  • Flexi time
  • Compressed working hours
  • Annual hours
  • Working from home
  • Mobile working
  • Variable start and finish times
  • Term Times
Single man

‘There is not as much acceptance around men [working flexibly] and men themselves will often be in denial. I’ve known men who will pretend to be going to a meeting. Actually they are going to pick the kids up.’

 CIPD 2019

Perceived Barriers to flexible working

A recent survey of just under 2,000 professionals working in the UK, (Timewise 2017) found the biggest perceived barriers to flexible working include outdated workplace cultures and attitudes that perpetuate the “flexibility stigma”, and reveals a fear of challenging the status quo.  It’s clear that even when business leaders want to accommodate the flexible working needs of their employees – and even encourage it – there is a gap between what is said at the top and how that translates to everyday working life.

  • 30% felt they were regarded as having less status because they work flexibly
  • 25% felt they were given access to fewer opportunities and have missed out on promotion
  • 17% felt unable to ask for flexible working because colleagues don’t work flexibly

The work still needs to be done

Sometimes the reluctance to give flexible working is not really about the flexibility, but an underlying performance issue or other concern about the person who has requested flexible working.’

Some managers fear that there can come a critical point where, if you have too many people working flexibly, it can become very inflexible for those that haven’t got a flexible working agreement. To be truly flexible an organisation needs to think more holistically about the way work is organised and managed.

“the core obstacle for people to enjoy great work-life balance is the issue of workload and how work is organised. You can have an onsite childcare center, a gym and a clinic, but if the expected workload is 60+ hours a week, it’s not going to help much.”

Ariane Ollier-Malaterre, Professor of Management at the University of Quebec in Montreal

Woman walking with stick along corridor
More than 600 people a day quit their job to care for a loved one in UK
Group of people kneeling in a circle with arms stretched out
9 out of 10 prefer alterantive to traditional 9 to 5 working day
37% of UK employees prefer 8 to 4

Office desk in shed
Working from home really helps me to get through my “to do” list and get the bigger jobs done without interruptions.’

How to increase uptake of flexible working

1. Clarify the benefits of flexible working – for the individual and the organisation. Find out what your employees are looking for. RBS found reduced commuting time and costs to be the most widely cited benefit.

2  Find the compelling hook or business imperative. For some organisations this is now integral to their candidate attraction strategies, for others the need to increase diversity across the organisation may be key.

3. Communication is vital for promoting uptake of flexible working and needs to happen in varied ways, both formal (for example, newsletters, videos, campaigns) and informal (for example, conversations in the corridor).

Many employers found manager workshops invaluable in myth-busting and also an opportunity to share success stories of where flexible working has worked well. HSBC found 89% employees felt more productive when working flexibly. Working flexibly does not mean that individual has no interest in career progression.

4. Creating networks of champions across the organisation. Depending on size a flexible working steering group and/or a community for flexible workers can all help facilitate communication and build momentum.

5. If in doubt, use a trial period to assess how any requested changes work in practice. One size will not fit all and not all jobs are possible to be done as flexibly as others.

Need a helping hand getting started?

If you would like to to review how flexible working can help with recruitment, retention and productivity I can help you. Just contact me at for a informal and free discussion.

‘You won’t know unless you give it a go’

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