Flexible working – where do you stand?

06 December 2016
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Last month saw Yahoo’s new chief executive Marissa Mayer drive a significant company decision that will see an end to the allowance of home working; by June the company’s remote workers will be required to relocate to their nearest Yahoo office.  The leaked ‘confidential’ staff memo detailed that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.

 

The announcement was met with controversy from both employees and the wider business community.  While some felt this indicated the company was taking a step back and were out of touch with progressive working practices, others have argued an entitlement issue exists and that flexible working practices should be at the organisation’s discretion, clearly linked to a proven business benefit. 

 

Whatever your personal opinion, at a time where skilled talent is in short supply, it has prompted us to question just how advantageous it is for organisations to actively offer and promote flexible working, and what considerations employers (particularly those seeking IT and Finance professionals), should be keeping in mind.

 

A current UK snapshot

It should be noted that ‘flexible working’ is not all about working off-site.  It has been defined by the UK government as ‘a way of working that suits the employer’s needs.’  Some of the most popular forms include flexible hours, part-time working, and job sharing; however, other options include compressed, annualised or staggered hours.  While anyone is able to ask for flexible working, only a carer (of a child or adult), has a legal right to request it where employers must consider the application and provide reasonable business grounds for denying such a request. 

 

How widely accepted are flexible working practices in the UK? According to a survey of 1,000 managers conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), three quarters of organisations reported they were supportive of flexible working arrangements.  Conversely, a separate study led by O2 found that, while managers may claim their organisations encourage flexible working practices, less than a fifth of staff had the same perception.

 

Despite divided viewpoints among employers, the government is preparing to extend the current legal right to request flexible working beyond parents and carers, to all employees with at least 26 weeks’ service within the Children and Families Bill, expected to be passed this year.  The current grounds on which a flexible working request can be refused will remain.  By providing the option for varied working patterns, it is hoped this change will boost the labour market and help more of the UK workforce achieve a better work/life balance.

 

Is flexible working a matter of importance for IT and Finance professionals?

A 2012 Experis study revealed that ‘being able to have a good work/life balance’ was the top priority for those working in IT and Finance roles, interestingly, this was prioritised ahead of ‘a competitive package’ and ‘working for a well-respected company.’  This was reiterated in another question, in which the majority of IT and Finance professionals disagreed with the statement: ‘In today’s economy, work/life balance is a luxury, not an essential.’ 

 

While achieving this balance may be an aspiration rather than a reality for some in the workforce, it is a desire that employers seeking to hire top IT and Finance talent must take seriously.  A good work/life balance is considered more than an optional extra among IT and Finance professionals and is therefore a factor that may strongly influence a candidate’s future job choices, making some employers more attractive than others.

 

What benefits does flexible working offer employers?

Numerous academic studies have been conducted that paint flexible working in a positive light for both employees and employers.   Along with increasing employee satisfaction and engagement, benefits to organisations include productivity gains, a reduction in office costs and carbon footprint, the opportunity to hire remotely, and even a reduction in sickness levels.   One of the most attractive advantages with a direct impact on competitiveness is the ability to attract and retain a more diversely skilled workforce.

 

Considerations for employers

To achieve a positive outcome and ensure long-term success, flexible working must not to be offered at the expense of collaboration and must deliver tangible business benefits.  Encouraging and promoting flexible working practices within your organisation will inevitably involve a cultural change and quite likely, a shift in management practices and mind-set, one that is more focused on output rather than physical presence or time. 

 

The Microsoft whitepaper 'Work without Walls' highlighted a common concern among many managers: “Business leaders assume employees who work remotely and take advantage of the policy are not really working.  This is because of the loss of control.  Employers lose direct oversight and cannot witness productivity firsthand.”

 

Clearly defined goals along with the establishment of regular and clear lines of communication and metrics are therefore imperative to ensure managers are aware of productivity, rather than simply relying on the physical presence of an individual in an office at a set time.  Both employers and employees must accept responsibility for making it work

 

A viable option for your organisation?

With so many potential benefits, not least of which, an enhanced employee brand that is seen as being dynamic and flexible, more organisations may well want to give serious consideration to whether their business model could allow them to more actively adopt flexible working practices.

For organisations seeking to stand out from their competitors and attract the strongest IT and Finance talent in the market, they must acknowledge the level of importance IT and Finance professionals place on achieving a work/life balance.  No longer seen as an optional extra, in an era where skilled IT and Finance workers are in high demand but short supply, employers that actively embrace flexible working might just be the ones with the strongest appeal to the top IT and Finance talent.

 

Sources: The Guardian, BusinessWeek, FT.com, Gov.uk, Ragan.com, Business-information-uk.com, Forbes.com, parentalchoice.co.uk, Experis Research Report: Attitudes to work among IT and Finance professionals in the UK

Posted on: 06/12/16