How flexible is flexible working? The reality …

We, at Attune Flexible Jobs, are lucky because we get to work with companies who already understand the importance of flexible working for all, but we more often than not come across many candidates who frustratingly want to use their skills but need some flexibility in their working week.  Here, our guest blogger, Emma Scott shares with us, her views on flexing flexible work with ill health, another reason for wanting and needing flexible work.

The demand for flexible working is rising sharply. New research by Timewise has shown that 87% of the UK’s full-time workforce currently work flexibly or would like to do so. However, this demand is not being met on a number of levels. There remains a limited mindset on who flexible working is for and what benefits it can offer employers. This, in turn, may be contributing to a lack of quality flexible working options being offered to employees and the availability of flexible roles being advertised.

Flexible working should work for everyone

We most commonly associate flexible working with parents or those with other caring responsibilities. However, there is demand to work flexibly from across the workforce and there are broad motivations for wanting this set up. This could range from someone wanting a 4-day week, giving them time to pursue other interests, to someone looking to balance a successful career with a disability or health condition. The latter applies to me.

In the last few years, I have juggled rare conditions with the demands of a consulting career. I was lucky to have worked for employers who were supportive and offered some adjustments, such as a day a week working from home. More recently, however, I have been forced to take some time out and reassess as my lifestyle needs no longer fit into the traditional ‘9-5’. Thankfully, I am now doing better and feel motivated to find a role that allows me to continue working, learning and achieving just in a more agile way. But as I have discovered, this is not an easy find.

The reality of flexible working options

It is encouraging to see that more companies are open to flexible working. However, according to Timewise, only 10% of quality jobs advertised – that is roles above £20,000 FTE – are promoted as being open to flexibility. Even where a flexible working policy exists in an organisation, it is not always clear what this really looks like. In practice, flexible working can vary greatly, from flexing start and end times one day a week to full-time remote working. How can company policy be more transparent?

I came across a point of view recently that proposed a ‘flexible working rating’ for job adverts. This kind of approach could have a positive impact on job seekers, employees and employers alike, as it expands the alternative working conversation and if flexible leaders were to adopt such a rating, it could encourage more companies to critically think about their own flexible working policies and the benefits in offering more options for all. While certain industries may not be able to accommodate agile working to the same extent as others, a rating or comparable metric would make this clear.

Flexible working benefits more than employees

There needs to be a cultural shift in the workplace that reflects the digital age we live in and also expands the mindset of employers to see the wide-ranging benefits. While the positives of flexible working are widely known for employees, they are less well known for employers, which is part of the problem.

CBI report highlighted employer concerns about flexible working, such as continuing to meet business and customer need and costs associated with the development of secure IT networks. On balance, however, there is evidence that embracing flexibility in the workplace brings many more benefits than drawbacks. A number of studies, such as research from CIPD and Regus, have found that employers offering flexibility report greater productivity, employee loyalty and fewer absences, which in turn saves companies money. A more agile workforce can support companies in better accommodating business and economic changes.

Making flexible working commonplace will help to great a fairer and more competitive job market and could even assist in closing pay gaps on the grounds of gender, class or disability as well as lifting people out of poverty. According to Acas, more than 200,000 people living in poverty have the skills to do better paid work but are prevented from it because of a lack of flexible jobs.

From a broader perspective, more flexible working could help national issues, such as transport, and the associated pressures and costs of congestion, including environmental. This should really incentivise the government to encourage more working from home or more flexibly and to reflect this in the law.

At a minimum, not embracing a meaningful flexible working policy for employees will mean companies will continue to miss out on the benefits that come from a flexible workforce. On a bigger scale, making agile working the norm could result in significant gains for society.

The law and a leading flexible employer

Currently, the law around flexible working states that employees must have worked for an employer for 26 weeks before they have a statutory right to make a flexible working request. While a good start, this could go a lot further. It is relatively easy for companies to make a business case against such requests and there are no guidelines around types of flexible working arrangements companies should be offering. It also does not support job seekers.

Lloyds Banking Group is one employer leading the pack with regards to flexible working. Timewise has recently recognised the company in its Power 50 awards. Hiring managers at LBG must provide a rationale for not offering agile working options for a role they are advertising. This has resulted in about 90% of LBG vacancies being promoted as agile, which is a vastly different picture to the national average of 10%.

For those seeking flexible work

If like me, you are searching for a role that doesn’t fit the ‘9-5’, this is likely to be a challenge, especially for more senior roles. The employment market has a long way to go, but in the meantime, there are some good career sites that are framed around flexible working, including Attune Flex Jobs. There are also people out there championing flexible working and engaging with companies and the government on this matter, such as Anna Whitehouse, a.k.a Mother Pukka through her ‘Flex Appeal’. Your own network of contacts can also be very helpful to find a role with the right work set up for you.

What are your thoughts on how flexible working should be embraced in the workplace and what type of flexible working arrangement would work for you?

Thanks to Emma for her insights and some great stats that can be used for anyone who wants to promote flexible working.  If you would be interested in taking part in a Q&A to share your story on flexibility in the workplace, we would love to hear from you. Contact us at sarah.broad@attunejobs.com.

Developement, Agile, Flexible working

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