Back in 2018 the latest economic forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility anticipated the UK labour market remaining tight, with unemployment set to remain below 5% until at least 2022. This incorporates the expected reduction in net in-migration following the UK’s exit from the European Union last weekend. Will an employee-focused flexible working culture become more important to employers wanting to attract and retain people?
Lisa Pantelli, simply’s Head of Content and a champion of sustainable flexible working practices, welcomes anything that will help businesses of all shapes and sizes adopt flexible working practices that are of strategic, financial and personal benefit. “There is still so much more to do in terms of unlocking and making use of the talent that is right under our noses,” Lisa says. “On the one hand, we hear all too often about the brain drain and the talent gap. On the other, we see employees struggling under the competing demands of heavy workloads and unfulfilled personal lives. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that something is not right.”
Education better than legislation
The 2014 extension of the right to request flexible working may not have been the game changer expected, but as a piece of legislation it is still useful as a last resort when raising the issue with reluctant employers and managers. Better still, there’s a clear need to educate and encourage employers to look at work in a less traditional fashion, taking advantage of the myriad new technologies that facilitate a far less constrictive way of getting work done. And this is what an enterprising network of businesses in the South East have been doing.
Emma Cleary, Director and Founder of Flexibility Matters has hosted a series of recent round table discussions, involving prominent senior representatives of over 25 businesses. This has resulted in a collection of strategies that form a best-practice guide to successfully implementing a flexible working culture. Emma told us, “Businesses need to recruit and retain happier, healthier and more productive employees if they are to survive in the future.”
Population and employment trends
According to figures from CIPD, on the basis of population projections and an extrapolation of recent employment trends, the share of total employment accounted for by those aged over 50 is set to reach 36% by 2032, by which time a tenth of the workforce could be aged over 65! This is likely to increase the (relative) demand for flexible working patterns suited to the needs of older age groups, which may be different from that of younger people, such as the parents of young children.
Work in the so-called ‘gig economy’ appears to offer individuals much greater freedom over when to schedule work. Figures released last autumn show the gig economy had doubled in size in the past three years. While, on the face of it, this way of working seems to offer the ultimate in flexibility, the scheduling freedom it offers can in practice be limited, especially if the need to make a living requires frequent availability. For some, the absence of traditional work pressures and routines can itself be a problem with little, if any, employment protection and limited opportunity for ongoing training and upskilling. This in turn could have significant repercussions for businesses.
Much of what we write about here on simply-communicate.com is about how businesses are transforming themselves digitally. The business benefits are many and, handled correctly, employee engagement should also improve. But remote access and always-on working could become the new arena for debate and, perhaps even, conflict as most employees want some boundaries between their work and personal lives. With mobile working expected to reach 70% by 2020 (Work Foundation 2016) this warrants further discussion.
So, while the demand for more traditional flexible working arrangements may decrease, the requirement to meet the needs of an agile workforce isn’t going away anytime soon.
Two in three workers (68%) would like to work flexibly in a way that is not currently available. (CIPD 2019 Working Lives survey)
Lisa Pantelli again, “The fact remains that, despite the advances in technology, the vast majority of workers are still expected to turn up to a place of work at set times. There is a huge amount that can be done to accommodate the flexible working desires of workers while at the same time boosting productivity and creating a happy and healthy culture. As communicators, we have a job to do here also, sharing good news stories and making sure all available channels are aligned behind the right flexible working messages.”
Key best-practice strategies for a flexible working culture
During the round table discussions Emma Cleary recognised three key implementation challenges:
- Enabling the flexible working mindset to filter through multiple levels of management
- Managing the large variety of work patterns and different needs of regional offices
- Tackling tech, training and communication at a team level
To overcome these and fully realise the rewards of a flexible workforce, here are some of the key strategies that make up the 10-point best practice guide:
- CULTURE: A cultural core value shift that requires implementation from the very top, led by example and evident in CEOs and line managers working flexibly themselves.
- COMMUNICATION: Internal promotion of success stories regarding retention, talent and productivity, proving that flexible arrangements improve the bottom line.
- TRAINING: A clear set of guiding principles, training and tool kits that enable and empower managers at all levels to navigate their own team’s varying work patterns and different needs.
- MEASUREMENT: Fostering a results-based culture rather than focusing on time spent at work – supporting managers with the tools to measure this.
- TECHNOLOGY: An investment in technology that embraces both trading progression and new ways of working.
There are plenty of practical suggestions and top tips in the full detail of The 10-point Best Practice Guide to Successful Implementation of Flexible Working which you can find here.