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10 Dec 2018

Flexibility Conference

Recently I attended an ACAS and CIPD conference on flexibility in the workplace, with a focus on making flexibility available to everyone. It was a fascinating day and here are some of the highlights.

Presentee-ism is an ever increasing issue and research shows that it is worse for productivity than absenteeism. It starts at school when we award children prizes for attendance, sending a message from a very young age that their presence is more important than their well-being. This carries through to working life and a focus on presentee-ism in the workplace creates unnecessary stress for employees along with an environment in which people don’t feel trusted.

Flexibility is traditionally associated with parents, but in reality, it’s about everyone. It can:

  • help reduce commuting costs
  • enable people with disabilities to access or return to work
  • support carers to balance work and care
  • allow people to learn or undertake personal interests in their own time
  • allow people to continue working in the lead up to retirement and beyond if they so choose.

All of which results in

  • increased productivity
  • improved staff retention therefore reduced recruitment costs
  • attracting a much more diverse workforce
  • more motivated staff
  • increased staff well-being due to a reduction in stress
  • increase of staff loyalty
  • reduction in absenteeism
  • reduction in commuting times

Research shows that given the choice between a 3% pay rise or more flexible working arrangements, over a third of people would prefer the flexibility. However, despite a huge increase in demand for flexible working, less than 10% of jobs, with salaries under 20k, advertise flexibility at the point of hire. Without doing this, employers will not attract talent from diverse backgrounds.                    

Organisations and managers can be resistant to implementing flexibility in the workplace, but if it is to operate successfully, it must be implemented consistently across the organisation to avoid resentments building up amongst staff to whom the flexibility isn’t readily available.

Another key issue raised by Peter Cheese, Chief executive of CIPD, is that we need to move away from measuring a person’s worth by the number of office hours they put in and focus on the quality of their output. This facilitates the transition to a truly flexible workplace. He also suggested that rather than setting targets to increase numbers of flexible roles in an organisation, we should start from the premise that, in 5 years’ time, 100% of the roles in an organisation should be flexible and look at what needs to change in order to get there, and put the necessary plans in place.  

However, there are avoidable pitfalls which could negate the benefits of implementing flexibility. If not carefully managed it can lead to

  • an “always on” culture, people checking emails in their time off etc.
  • lack of trust, homeworkers performance needs to be measured on output, rather than hours worked
  • resentment if employees feel flexibility is largely in favour of employer (e.g. zero hours contracts) or if not implemented consistently across an organisation

All of the above results in:

  • reduction in productivity
  • demotivation and demoralisation of employees
  • a detrimental effect on employee’s mental well-being

So it is key to have staff trained in efficiently managing a flexible workforce.  

The five elements of a flexible workplace are:

  • Flexibility for all – not just parents/carers etc.
  • Many forms – homeworking, flexi-time, compressed hours, differing roles 
  • High Trust – If you can’t trust your staff to work efficiently then you have bigger problems and issues with recruitment
  • Managers and leaders who enable
  • Policy – effective, accessible and flexible

With 87% of people wanting to work flexibly, but only 11% of jobs being advertised as flexible, we need to be creating flexible strategies throughout the whole organisational structure, from recruitment processes through to our working, resourcing, management and inclusion policies. In this way we can meet the demand for this type of working and fill the growing skills gaps created by a retiring older generation.