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Flexible working arrangements and why employees want them

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Working flexibly; once it was just part of a job description for Cirque du Soleil performers, but now it’s becoming an increasingly vital component of modern workplace life. While it isn’t a new idea by any stretch, flexible working arrangements are becoming increasingly popular the world over. While the demand for it is soaring, there are a few misconceptions about what actually constitutes flexible work, owing to the fact that it can be approached in several ways.

Today, we’ll be looking at some of the different types of flexible working arrangements, and why the attitudes towards them are shifting. There’s more to it than just working from home, and different methods will better suit particular individuals and businesses.

What are flexible working arrangements, and why is it important to offer them to employees?

Flexibility can mean different things to different people. According to IWG: ‘Around a fifth of global workers describe flexible working as the ability to make some decisions regarding their working hours, a quarter equate it with being able to manage workload, but more than half relate it to being able to choose the type of work location, thus highlighting how important where they work is to how they define flexibility and their attitudes towards the achievement of a degree of mastery over their professional life.’

IWG’s Global Annual Workplace Survey found that 85% of respondents confirmed that their business had increased in productivity as a result of flexible working initiatives. Over four fifths said that if given two similar job offers, they would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexibility. They also found that more than half of employees globally are spending at least 2.5 days a week working outside of their main office headquarters. 65% of businesses say flexible workspace helps to reduce expenditure, and 65% of survey respondents believe that businesses which ‘tailor the work environment to the work function of staff’ are more productive.

The option to work flexibly isn’t just becoming more popular, it’s also becoming more expected. Morgan McKinley’s 2019 Working Hours and Flexible Working Survey found that 55% of respondents no longer viewed flexible working arrangements as a perk, but rather expected it as standard when searching for a new job. However, when asked if their employer offered a flexible working scheme, 35% said they did not, or that they were unaware of the option.

Developing the correct approach to flexible working for your business is also an important aspect of addressing gender equality in the workplace. Research by Tiger Recruitment found that 36% of women are being offered remote working or home working options, versus only 17% of men.

The perception that flexible working is somehow a “woman’s perk” can not only discourage men from seeking or making use of these arrangements, but may also negatively impact opportunities for women to advance into more senior positions. The 2017 Flexible Jobs Index Survey by Timewise found that better paying job roles were less likely to have a flexible working option. Over a fifth of full-time-equivalent jobs paying between £14,000 and £19,999 had options for flexibility, falling to 11.9% of jobs paying between £20,000 and £34,999. Meanwhile, only 6.9% of jobs paying £80,000 or more were advertised with flexible working arrangements.

What are some examples of flexible working?

Five common flexible working examples include:

  • Remote working
  • Compressed hours
  • Job sharing
  • Flexi-time
  • Phased retirement

Remote working: It’s not just working from home you know… Also known as “telecommuting,” or “distributed working” it tends to get something of a bad reputation due to the assumption that people choosing to work from home (or any other external location) will be less productive than if they had come into the office. Airtasker surveyed over a thousand full-time employees and found that remote workers work 1.4 more days per month than office workers, equating to an additional three weeks of work per year. On top of that, while remote workers take longer breaks on average, they also remain productive for ten more minutes a day than their office counterparts.

However, remote work also comes with the risk of overworking employees. Typically, a good communications network is necessary for it to work and this “always on” mentality can pressure employees to work longer than they should. Morgan McKinley’s research found that 91% of white collar office workers are working past their contracted hours without compensation, despite not feeling any more productive from working the extra hours.

Compressed hours: These schemes allow professionals to work longer hours in exchange for additional days off. We have already discussed the benefits of a shorter work week in a previous article, but to summarise: This option can give employees a greater sense of control over their work/life balance. Trials of a four-day work week have typically been well received by staff taking part. While some feel that this may put strain on staff due to longer days, this option is highly useful for to a lot of people. Some find the extra hours per day negligible, while others have commitments or personal interests that may otherwise clash with their work.

Job sharing: The process of breaking down one full-time position into two or more part-time positions. This is useful where the workload of one job is becoming too much for one person. It allows them not only to divide the workload, but also collaborate to meet challenges. It also enables an employer to keep two professionals partially employed and supported, rather than having to pick one and let the other person go.

People often ask for job sharing arrangements to improve their work/life balance for the benefit of their personal wellbeing. It is also useful for parents or people with health conditions. However, it is also an effective temporary measure. Job sharing can give you the time to retrain or learn a new skill, benefitting the business and your own career development at the same time. Obviously whether job sharing is feasible is dependent on your workplace. More progressive offices with an established culture of work sharing are more likely to suit this approach.

Flexi-time: The employee decides when they start and when they finish, while committing to work a certain set of core hours. For example, a business might have standard 9-5 office hours, with flexi-time staff required to work at minimum from 10am to 4pm, but with time outside of those hours left to the employee’s prerogative. This type of flexible working arrangement depends on a results-based office mentality. If someone wants to be able to start late and finish early, they have to be able to handle their workload in that amount of time.

Like other flexible work arrangements, flexi-time can reduce turnover and bolster employee wellbeing and satisfaction. But it can pose certain managerial challenges. If all your staff members are choosing to come in later, you risk not having anyone around to complete early morning tasks. On top of that, everyone starting and finishing at different times can make it more difficult to keep track of whether people are meeting their obligations to the business.

Phased retirement: Sometimes work/life balance isn’t just about working less. Lack of mental stimulation can exacerbate cognitive decline. On top of that, feeling useful is a major component in an individual’s self-image. So it’s easy to understand why many people might not be so thrilled about the prospect of retirement.

Phased retirement plans allow the employee to choose when they retire, enabling them to scale back to part-time hours, to ease them into retirement and keep doing something productive for as long as they want to.

Of course the nature of flexibility is that it’s adaptive, so it’s doubtful we’ve covered all the possibilities for flexible working arrangements. But the selection we’ve discussed here should give you a good idea of the options available to you or your business. Different individuals stand to benefit more from different arrangements, and not everything here will be feasible for every type of organisation. However, the important thing about flexible working arrangements is to provide an array of options, to ensure that your workplace is as inviting to potential talent as possible.

How effective these approaches are depends largely on how they are implemented. Many, such as remote working, would benefit greatly from digital communication and feedback platforms. If you’re concerned your team aren’t doing their best while working flexibly, Weekly10 uses a customisable weekly check-in feature and performance review system, as well as allowing you to choose between smart goals and OKRs to make sure the output of your employees matches your objectives as a business. To see how we can support your flexible working initiatives, check out our demo options today!

Research Associate