The Implications of Flexible Work Arrangements

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HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Being aware of all the complexities and possible implications of flexible working will put you in a stronger position to ensure your organization and employees benefit from this trend.

Article 8 Minutes

The steady growth of flexible working has been one of the most important HR and employment trends of recent years.

Whatever form it comes in - from remote and part-time working to flexi-time and compressed hours - flexible working is a concept that can unlock all sorts of benefits for companies and their staff.

It can help you strengthen relationships with your existing employees by recognizing the importance of a good work-life balance and giving people more control over their jobs. Embracing flexibility can also boost your employer brand and make you more attractive to candidates.

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However, it's important to acknowledge the potential drawbacks and risk factors that must be taken into account where flexible working is concerned. You’ll also want to feel confident that there are measures in place to ensure the business gets maximum benefit from adopting flexible arrangements.

What flexible working looks like today

The steady move towards flexible working in recent years has been evident in many countries and territories.

In the UK, only 9.5% of all staff were on flexible hours in 1999, but recent research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) highlights that more than half (54%) of employees now work flexibly in some way.

CIPD also noted that most flexible arrangements have a big impact on people's quality of life and usually have no adverse consequences for their career.

This is a trend that has been welcomed in the HR and recruitment space.

"It's great to see that employees are being offered greater flexibility and autonomy over their own work. This certainly is a step in the right direction in ensuring that the workforce is motivated and engaged in meaningful work. The advancements of technology over the past 20 years have no doubt played a significant part in making this possible." - Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo.

 

Despite this growth, there’s still a lot of unmet demand for flexibility, with two-thirds (68%) of people saying they would like to work flexibly in a way that’s not currently available.

The UK government recently outlined a new Employment Bill, one of the key priorities of which is to encourage flexible working and maximize the benefits available to employers and workers.

Global statistics suggest similar growth in flexible practices in countries around the world, with 61% of companies currently offering some sort of remote working policy.

Regular work-at-home has increased by 173% since 2005, with 4.7 million people now working from home at least half the time, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.

Some nations are moving quicker than others, with less than a third (32%) of Japanese firms offering flexible working, even though 80% of employees in Japan have expressed an interest in working remotely.

The benefits of flexible working

There are many advantages to be gained from flexible working arrangements, not only for staff but for employers too.

An Acas research paper provided case study examples that built up a detailed picture of flexible working and how it impacts individuals and organizations.

The key findings highlight various benefits of flexible job arrangements, including:

  • Reduced work-life conflict, particularly for working women with high family responsibilities
  • Improved employee health and wellbeing
  • Higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness at work
"The people who are on flexible hours, when they are here, they are completely focused. I find more so than people that might be on your standard nine-to-five." - Acas case study interviewee with a public organization.

 

As far as gender equality and employers taking action to support new mothers in their transition back into the workplace is concerned, flexible working can make a huge difference. This was emphasized in the Public Relations and Communications Association's inaugural Middle East PR and Communications Census.

"We have to keep women in the workplace. This will only happen if companies adopt more flexible practices. Flexible working is a no-brainer - done well, it improves engagement, trust, and business performance." - Loretta Ahmed, PRCA MENA regional board member and CEO of Grayling Middle East and North Africa.

 

Furthermore, introducing flexible practices can unlock a number of practical, financial advantages for employers, such as reduced absenteeism thanks to a happier, healthier workforce, and lower everyday costs because fewer people are in the workplace at any one time.

Ultimately, it's clear the average employer could have a lot to gain from embracing flexible working. However, it's also important to be aware of potential challenges that could arise so you're fully prepared to manage them.

How flexible working could negatively impact businesses

One disadvantage of flexible working is the blurring of the boundaries between work and home life, which can prove problematic if employees feel that they can never switch off from their jobs.

This was highlighted in recent research by specialist recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley, which shows that 62% of workers remain available on mobile devices outside working hours.

The majority (71%) of respondents were offered flexible working by their current employer, and 75% felt this provision had boosted their company's performance and profitability.

"The way in which we all work has changed dramatically. Employees have increased access to flexible working but end up working a greater number of hours every week. It is becoming a widespread dilemma." - David Leithead, chief operations officer, Morgan McKinley UK.

 

Businesses also need to think about how an increase in flexible working can have repercussions in areas such as workforce collaboration and professional development. Employees who spend a lot of time working from home could miss out on some of the benefits of being in a shared workplace, such as working closely with others to solve problems and learning by observing experienced, capable colleagues.

Furthermore, it's important to be aware that physical presence in the workplace can help people feel more integrated into the workforce and committed to their employer. As Jason Fowler, HR director at Fujitsu UK and Ireland, has pointed out, a sense of common purpose and collegiate association can transform the employment relationship from purely transactional, into an emotional commitment.

Businesses that adopt flexible working practices need to ensure they have effective measures in place to ensure all employees maintain a sense of engagement with their colleagues and the organization as a whole. It's also important to monitor productivity so you can feel confident that changes in working arrangements aren't affecting people's performance.

The impact on hiring and recruitment

Introducing flexible working policies can have a positive impact on your employer brand, which will make you more attractive to job candidates and help you attract the best talent to succeed and grow.

Mercer's 2018 Global Talent Trends report highlights 'permanent flexibility' as one of the defining workforce themes last year. The company's research shows that most employees want their company to offer more flexible working options than they do today, which suggests organizations that have embraced flexibility will prove attractive to those seeking a career change.

Four out of ten executives (80%) said flexibility was a core part of their company's value proposition, up from 49% a year earlier, but only 3% felt they were industry leaders in this area.

Separate research conducted in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by jobs site Bayt.com found that 86% of MENA professionals prefer to work for an employer that offers flexible hours.

One of the biggest benefits you can gain from flexible working is stronger engagement and satisfaction among your workforce. People who are happy in their jobs and committed to you as an employer will be more likely to act as advocates for you, which puts you in a stronger position to gain referrals and access hidden talent.

How to make sure you’re getting results from a flexible working arrangement

Before making a major commitment to flexible working, it's vital to have a clear strategy in place to maximize the benefits from your chosen practices and minimize the risks.

Acas offers the following best practice recommendations:

  • Prioritize clear communication, with an emphasis on setting boundaries and managing expectations. It's crucial that flexible workers have a clear idea of how they’ll work with their colleagues and managers
  • Ensure flexible working arrangements are formalized, rather than ad hoc, to avoid management difficulties
  • Introduce consistent practices across teams to eliminate local variations and guarantee fairness
  • Consider flexible working requests on an individual basis, evaluating each request on its own merits, but with consistent principles
  • Encourage flexible working among managers as well as team members, since this helps management understand the concept and its various benefits and considerations

By taking a carefully considered, consistent and structured approach to flexible working, you can gain maximum benefits from new, innovative practices and keep risks to a minimum.

Taking the right approach to flexibility can help you get the best out of your current workforce and attract new talent, laying the groundwork for future success.

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