When thinking about health and wellbeing it’s hard not to come across the phrase ‘work-life balance’. It’s been around long enough now that it’s not a fad and for many people, achieving the ideal work-life balance is increasingly important. Millennials are predicted to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 and they see work-life balance as a deal breaker. Which begs the question, what exactly does ‘work-life balance’ mean? Unfortunately for employers, there is no simple answer, one person’s work-life balance looks different from another’s. It covers many factors, such as pay, workplace conditions, social situation, and working hours. One pervasive topic when discussing work-life balance, is that of flexible working.
The government is currently considering whether it should require businesses to fully evaluate and publish their policies on flexible working options for job roles in a bid to increase transparency and encourage a more family friendly approach to the workplace. Currently, there is provision in UK law for flexible working. Employees who have worked for their employer for more than twenty-six weeks are entitled to make a ‘statutory application’ for flexible working arrangements. This must be made in writing and can only be done once in any 12-month period. Employers must respond in a ‘reasonable manner’, which generally means meeting with the employee to discuss the options. Employees can also make a non-statutory request at any time, this negotiation won’t be bound by the law in the same way but will likely go through a similar process. The laws regarding flexible working provide a minimum requirement and do not prevent businesses offering greater options or more tailored schemes as they see fit.
Despite these processes being in place, the CBI (2017) found that the number of people requesting flexible working or employers offering it has remained relatively low, with just 1 in 10 jobs advertised mentioning flexible working. In their 2019 report on flexible working the CiPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) found that although there was an increase in flexible-working options offered by employers in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis the numbers have remained much the same in the past decade. Just over a quarter of employees (27%) reported a flexible working arrangement of some sort, with an additional 18% working part-time. Improved internet connectivity has enabled an increase in people working from home, which may explain the stagnation of other flexible-working options. The CiPD report also notes that there has been a decrease in job-sharing.
There are many forms of flexible working and while most people agree that it is a move away from the traditional 9-5 working day, it’s precise form varies from industry to industry, company to company, role to role.
Flexible working for business
Offering flexible working options and schemes is not jumping on yet another bandwagon or keeping the recruitment agencies happy. It is about demonstrating a creative and open-minded attitude to working practices, setting you apart from competitors and attracting the best employees.
Flexible working options can open the door to people who might otherwise have been unable to work for you. This includes people with caring commitments, those managing long-term or chronic illness, or with intermittent mental health issues, individuals with complex travel arrangements or older people. Such people are skilled and experienced and could enrich your teams but are unable to commit to a traditional 9-5 working day.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (2018) estimated that increasing the number of women in work could grow Britain’s GDP by 9%. Getting more women into work (or back into work after having children) will help to close the gender pay gap, a key government policy focus. The benefits of a more balanced workforce also go well beyond equality. For example some research has found that women do up to 10 per cent more work than men, while another study discovered that cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster than cognitively similar ones. Diversity is good for business.
Show you care
Very little says “We care for our employees” as much as offering one or more forms of flexible working. Employers risk being viewed as heartless organisations, which does little to engender loyalty. Flexible working schemes demonstrate an understanding of and respect for your staff as individuals with lives and responsibilities beyond the workplace. It shows the business to be dynamic and agile, essential qualities in today’s fast-moving world.
Engage your employees
Organisations that implement flexible working strategies find that their employees are more engaged and productive, while absenteeism drops. Flexible working schemes also improve employee retention, people are more likely to commit to a job that works around their lifestyle. Meaning that you, in return, can commit to them and invest in training and job progression.
Be more flexible
Employees have the right to request flexible working options, but businesses do not have to wait for those requests. The argument for offering flexible working is clear and while every business is different, it is well worth considering putting together a flexible working scheme. There’s no need for a one size fits all approach, you can pick and choose which option best suits your business needs and employee requirements.
- Part time hours – any reduction in hours from a full 37.5-hour working week.
- Home working – Employees work from their home some or all the time.
- Term-time work/hours – An employee works only during school terms or works reduced hours outside of the school term.
- Flexi-time – Hours can be added or removed from the working day and made up at another time or deducted from the wage packet accordingly.
- Job sharing – Two people cover the same role, but each works reduced hours.
- Compressed working hours – Fewer, longer periods of work.
- Annual hours – Total hours for the year is agreed but week by week and day by day arrangements may vary.
- Mobile working – Employees may work some or all of their time in a location other than the office.
- Zero-hour contracts – employees work when required without minimum/maximum hours.
Connectivity is continually improving and becoming more mobile and software is being developed and honed to support remote collaboration. The potential to carry out a wide range of job roles flexibly is a practical solution to many problems. It is time that organisations across the board change traditional mindsets toward flexible working. They need to recognise that it is not only for women and parents but is something that all employees could potentially benefit from and often ranks higher than renumeration or holiday. Businesses that offer a robust flexible working scheme will enjoy greater employee loyalty, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. They will be able to offer employees an option to manage life’s ups and downs, meet mental and physical health challenges and truly contribute towards achieving a satisfactory work-life balance.