Why flexible working pays

Flexible working is not a temporary band aid, but a long-term cure

The phrase “flexible working” often brings to mind working parents. Although consideration of this group is extremely important – without them, businesses and entire economies look to lose access to a huge range of skills and experiences – the benefits of flexible working extend much further. 

During the pandemic, flexible working took main stage, with companies attempting to continue at full capacity during a global lockdown. In the post-pandemic world however, there is a strong argument against a rapid return to the “norm”. Why? Because flexible working, works. 

Who else benefits from flexible working?

From people caring for relatives to those looking for ways to cope with mental illness, the opportunity to work flexibly remains invaluable. The CIPD points out that in allowing individuals the autonomous task of managing family, disability or long-term health issues, there has been a significant reduction in both employee stress levels and absenteeism. 

Working flexibly has also afforded many individuals the opportunity to pursue a side hustle or passion project without having to abandon their regular salary. Research now shows that half of the UK’s “side hustles” have been set up in the last 18 months.      

A survey of 2,000 UK workers by online freelancer marketplace Fiverr found 58% of those who are moonlighting in some form began doing so after March 2020. Of course, the statistics undoubtedly include  those individuals who needed to make extra money during the financial squeeze of lockdown, but also those who suddenly had the time and space to pursue their passions. The current cost of living crisis will no doubt see a continuation of  this trend – one that can be facilitated by flexible working both for individuals  and the economy’s benefit. 

The rebalancing of work/life productivity has also had a significant positive impact on mental health. From those struggling with diagnosed mental illness, who would be otherwise unable to work to their full potential within a normal 9-5 construct, to general employee wellbeing, the impact is absolute. A four-day working week trial in New Zealand found that 97% of people have said a job with flexibility would bring a huge improvement or positive impact on their overall quality of life.

Mind-the UK mental health charity, states that because flexible working gives employees better control over the hours they work, this promotes a healthier work/life balance.  Employees have the choice and opportunity to avoid commuting during rush hour, plus the freedom to attend medical or personal appointments without taking holidays or unpaid time off. The Microsoft Japan 4 day working week trial, in which employees were paid the same amount to work 4 days instead of five, found that employee productivity increased by 40%. 

The positive repercussions for the environment that flexible working creates cannot be ignored either. Work for Impact state that working “away from a typical office environment could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tonnes every year.” In its simplest form, a reduction of people travelling to and from work and the small relative energy output of a home compared to that of an office, has a significant impact on global carbon emissions.    

Why flexible working pays, in more ways than one

The impact on employee wellbeing is clear, but what of the impact on business itself? 

The Culture Builders point out that ‘remote working is now a comprehensive tool set, approach and ethos that we’ve all grown as a new muscle’. But with only 11% of jobs offering flexible working as an option, it seems a few more bicep curls wouldn’t go amiss. 

Offering flexible working provides a significant widening of the talent pool when it comes to employment options. CIPD states that ‘there is a strong, unmet demand for more flexible jobs; 87% of people want to work flexibly’, but with only 11% offering this as an option there is a disconnect between what employees want and what employers are willing to give.

The widening of the talent pool inevitably leads to greater diversification. Companies offering flexibility are more likely to employ people from varying backgrounds. This in turn creates a culture with a rounded perspective where ideas can be challenged and debated, and the echo chamber avoided. The talent pool is also global and can operate 24 hours a day. 

A significant increase in employee productivity because of flexible working is a major positive that cannot be ignored. CIPD again states that ‘9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity at work.”

This impact on employee productivity has led to a major improvement in business outcomes. The CIPD found that Normalisation of flexible working arrangements helps businesses to reduce their gender pay gap as well as improve board level diversity. Global analysis has indicated that ‘companies with diverse boards outperform their rivals and have an opportunity cost equivalent to around 3% of UK GDP’. McKinsey have calculated that improving diversity could add £150 billion a year to the UK economy by 2025.

An employment trends survey conducted by the CBI found that  ‘99% of all businesses surveyed believe that a flexible workforce is vital or important to competitiveness and the prospects for business investment and job creation’. 

The challenges of flexible working

Of course, there are challenges to flexible working that need to be considered. Many employees state a difficulty with regards to “headspace”. Namely, the uncomfortable merging of home and work life and the challenge encountered in separating the two. There can also be a sense of disconnect from the team, leading to a feeling of lack of involvement. This is particularly true if other employees are still office based or work more hours than those on flexible working, as is often the case. 

These challenges, though potentially debilitating, are not without their solutions. The need for effective communication can force innovative structures to be implemented, resulting in better communication between employer and employee. In Contented’s recent conversation with Tom Hillman Head of Performance Marketing at Qatalog, it was pointed out that remote and flexible working  can remove the bias towards “loud people” in  meetings and create a more even playing field for communication of ideas. A company operating flexibly will also need to emphasise the development of accessible company resources. Tom continues, “It’s critical to get into the habit of thoroughly documenting processes, status, and actions. This means that information is stored and accessible centrally, not just in people’s heads. This is great for everyone and reduces risk for businesses.”          

There is no doubt that flexible working is a contentious and much-debated topic as we emerge into a post-pandemic future. What cannot be denied is that although  it was forced upon much of the working world,  there is now a majority who have made the deliberate choice not to abandon it.  

Rhiannon Fielder-Hobbs

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