Could flexible working be the answer for your business?

flexible working arrangements

With demand for alternative ways of working at an all-time high, we look at how flexible working works in practice, and how employers can attract and retain staff by using less traditional ways of working.

Rising demand for flexible working

According to Wasp Barcode’s annual State of Small Business Report, 50% of small businesses say hiring new employees is the top challenge they face. It is the number one challenge for businesses with fewer than 499 employees, which is much more than traditionally mentioned challenges, such as increasing profits and cashflow.

Furthermore, recent research conducted by Smarter Working Hub found that 67% of employees wish they were offered flexible working; 56% of commuters feel stressed or flustered at least once a month, 66% of whom suffer this at least once a week; 70% of workers feel that offering flexible working makes a job more attractive to them and over half of people believe managers need to adapt their skills to manage a remote workforce.

Here, Yuliana Topazly, founder of BuddyWith, asks whether offering flexible working can be the key to recruiting and retaining employees.

A lack of understanding

Unfortunately, many companies do not really understand flexible working. In particular, ‘parents’ represent a great pool of talent; however, they are ignored by many businesses, and therefore represent a missed opportunity. According to The Guardian: 40% of managers avoid hiring younger women to get around the issue and costs of maternity leave:  ‘The cost of maternity leave is too high and women ‘aren’t as good at their jobs’ when they return’; according to a survey of 500 managers.

This tendency to overlook this segment can lead to discrimination, including the notion that a woman returning from a maternity break is not fully committed to work and/or cannot keep up with workloads. With the ‘Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination’ Act in place, this has partly helped parents in work but has also somewhat contributed to the avoidance of employing from this workforce pool. The exception being ‘women in tech’. It is a shame that there seems to be a lack of information sharing, training and support for businesses in this space. There are many ways small businesses can engage and encourage this hidden talent to work for and with them, as well as encouraging women to go back to work after having children.

No compromise on productivity

Flexible working is a way of working that is tailored to suit the employee’s needs, without compromising productivity, and is an alternative to traditional set working hours. It could include working from home, flexible start and finish times, job sharing and many other options. Businesses should not view it as a challenge but rather an opportunity. According to the recent report by Breathing Space, it is likely to be the main way of working for more than 70% of employers by 2020. Every business needs to develop flexible working practices and understand how it can benefit their business and support their employees. It is about developing modern working practices to fit the needs of the 21st century employees.

Improved recruiting and retaining of staff

The biggest benefit to businesses is that flexible working practices will help them to recruit and retain experienced staff. Offering flexible hours widens the talent pool; currently only 6% of vacancies are advertised as flexible. Flexible practices also increase commitment and loyalty of staff members, which can lead to increased productivity. A Taskforce report highlights the benefits of flexible working for businesses, families, older workers, carers and a growing population who want a better balance between work and home life and in the current business climate there is an even stronger case for adapting flexible working practices.

Benefits reported

According to the Taskforce report, businesses using remote working are seeing falling absenteeism and higher retention, which leads to a reduction in costs; 65% of employers said flexible working practices had a positive effect on recruitment and retention thus saving on recruitment, induction and training costs. Businesses also reported increased productivity and greater loyalty amongst staff – 70% of employers noted some or significant improvement in employee relations.

Can it benefit customers too?

There is also evidence that flexible working benefits not only employers and employees but also customers.

According to the Working Mum’s Flexible Working Guide, flexible working practices increase flexibility for customers. In our increasingly global environment, with rising customer expectations of service levels and access to products, offering flexible working may well mean that you can adapt more effectively to your customers’ needs.

What are the options for the flexible working?

Unfortunately, a lot of businesses think it is just about part-time work and flexible hours. It is actually a lot more than that. It can include:

  • Part Time Hours
  • Flexi-time
  • Compressed Working Hours
  • Job Sharing
  • Shift Work
  • Working from Home
  • Career Breaks
  • Annual Hours

Companies offering flexible working opportunities to all employees, irrespective of legal obligations, find that their employee engagement and satisfaction ratings are higher and have a good reputation for balancing business and employee needs.

Further Information

So, is it time for your business to realise the benefits of flexible working and look at introducing these practices in order to support growth and attract and retain the talent you need.

Yuliana Topazly is founder of BuddyWith.org.uk – a supportive community of parents and experts who are there to help each other, offer advice, and share experiences.

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