According to a new study, four in 10 (42%) of UK employees say working flexibly makes them more productive.
Despite this, the report from communications company TeleWare showed that less than three in 10 (29%) of employees work for companies that operate flexible working. One in five companies only allow senior figures to work flexibly.
Employers are often wary of flexible working, thinking that their trust will be abused if they allow employees to work outside the office or choose their own working hours.
There are also problems with ‘presenteeism’ – when employees feel they’ll be judged unfavourably for not being visible in the office and even coming into work when they’re unwell.
This is despite evidence to the contrary. A study conducted by Stanford University surveyed 16,000 workers at a Chinese firm over ten months. It found that those allowed to work flexibly from home increased their productivity by 13%.
The flexible workers also reported higher work satisfaction and took less sick leave than their office-bound counterparts.
Research from the University of Kent and Vrije University in Amsterdam found that employees able to determine their own schedules worked harder to compensate for the stigma by colleagues attached to flexible working.
Furthermore, not letting employees work flexibly can harm an organisation’s reputation as a recruiter. A quarter of all employees have turned down a job in the past because the company did not offer flexible working as part of the package.
Embracing flexible working
The first step to embracing flexible working is by developing a relevant policy. It should include the options available to employees, where they can find more information, and set out how they can request a flexible working arrangement.
The fact that all employees have the legal right to request flexible working should be made clear. In addition, it should explain that,where possible, flexible working is encouraged by the organisation and that anyone who applies won’t be treated less favourably than colleagues choosing to work more traditional hours.
The policy should be communicated to employees. This could be by email, with a simple message letting them know where it can be found, such as in a revised Employee Handbook.
Even better, employee representatives could be involved during the creation of the policy to see what’s important to them. They’ll know better than most the challenges relating to working hours and maintaining a work-life balance.
Once a flexible working policy is established, employers need to trust that employees will use it responsibly. This is key to avoiding a culture of presenteeism, where employers place more value in whether employees are visible in the office rather than how productive they are.
Managers should become familiar with the procedure for dealing with flexible working requests. They should know what is required from employees when they make a request in writing, and what the qualifying period is before they can make a request.
Acas advise that employers handle requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. Example of handling requests in a reasonable manner could include:
Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application
Holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
Offering an appeal process