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Flexible working hours – Do employers really benefit?

The following article has been extracted from Wales Online:

I am sure that many can only dream of having a workplace where not only are you allowed the flexibility to set your own schedules but are offered unlimited paid time off by your employer.

Yet that is what the technology firm Dropbox has recently implemented for its employees. In addition, staff get a ‘no-meeting’ Wednesdays that enables them to have uninterrupted time for real work.

As a result, employee satisfaction has increased by 10% and the business is more efficient than ever.

But Dropbox is not alone in pursuing such practices. Indeed flexible working arrangements are becoming more popular in the UK.

It could be argued that this is driven by employees needs for greater work-life balance and partly because of legislation that now allows employees to have the statutory right to request work away from the office.

But are employers themselves becoming increasingly supportive of this change in work behaviour?

Research

According to a recent survey from the CBI, 97% of employers believed that a flexible workforce was vital for UK competitiveness, business investment and job creation.

Another study for the Chambers of Commerce indicated that 86% of smaller firms now have at least one member of staff working from home on a regular basis.

This should not be too surprising, as flexible working should form a vital part of a company’s human resource strategy to retain staff, increase commitment and loyalty, and deliver improved productivity.

Yet according to a recent report by the Centre for the Modern Family, much remains to be done to turn this rhetoric from business into real action in the workplace.

The study shows that around two thirds of employees want their employers to offer flexible working hours to help them achieve a better work-family balance, with nearly half wanting the flexibility to work from home.

Yet many employers are reluctant to allow this option – whilst 16% offer full-time working from home more than half say they would never consider doing so.

Manage what you see

Much of this hesitancy seems to be driven by managers’ fear about performance assessment.

Many still believe that you can only manage what you can see and have failed to come up with clarity on objectives and deliverables for those operating away from the workplace on a daily basis.

And if employees are not being allowed to work from home, then they are also reluctant to carry on working after office hours.

Indeed, despite mobile technology encouraging employees to be available at all times, 50% would like to be able to leave their work at the office and not take it home with them.

Pay

What is also of interest is that pay is becoming less important which is not unexpected given the salary squeeze on many employees in both the private and public sectors since the 2008 financial crash.

As a result, only 41% of employees think a pay rise would help solve their work/family balance issues. Indeed, a fifth would accept lower pay if they were able to work fewer hours as a result.

Yet despite this clear demand for flexible working, the research unfortunately shows that employers are reluctant to fully embrace this concept.

Indeed, only 30% say they go above and beyond the minimum legal requirements to be supportive of people’s work/family balance. Key issues include difficulties in managing the impact of parental leave and that the fact that the work they do isn’t suitable for homeworking.

As a result, nearly two-fifths of employers are concerned that flexible working may actually have a negative effect on the firm’s productivity although it doesn’t seem that cost is an issue.

Rather it is the logistical problems that come from its implementation, especially amongst smaller firms, that concerns employers.

Certainly, that is something that policymakers need to focus on and make flexible working as easy as possible to deliver across firms of all sizes.

Zero hour contracts

Finally, there is one other finding from the report that should give some comfort to those who support better working conditions, namely the data relating to the use of zero hours contracts i.e. where there is an informal arrangement where there is normally no obligation for employers to offer work or for workers to accept it.

Whilst some politicians have associated flexible working with zero hours contracts, that is definitely not the view of employers in the UK, with 47% seeing such arrangements as a potential negative for their business.

In fact, more than two-thirds of businesses would not consider zero hours contracts while only 10% use them which demonstrates the value that many employers place on their workforce.

Therefore, we have a mixed picture on the development of flexible working in the UK.

Whilst many employers will say that the most important factor in driving forward the competitive advantage of their business is the people they employ, it is clear that much remains to be done to encourage greater flexible working amongst UK businesses and, more importantly, in demonstrating its benefit in terms of productivity and employee retention.

However, with an increasing number of firms embracing this concept over the last few years and showing how it can improve their bottom line, one would hope that flexible working would be the exception and not the norm in the near future.

Source: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/business/business-opinion/flexible-working-seen-vital-competitiveness-11293018

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