Flexibility now ranks top amongst what’s important to employees (even more than pay), but what does it mean in practice?
Flexible working arrangements can come in many forms. For some people being flexible will mean compressing a five day week into four days; for others it will just be having a long lunch break to fit in a gym session. For many it is just being trusted to get the job done in the timeframe required, no matter where or when you do so. Trust people to do their job and more often than not, they will repay by putting in greater effort whilst working.
For employers, the tangible benefits of workplace flexibility include: reduction in absenteeism, increase in employee morale, higher engagement, greater commitment and improved retention. In fact over 55% of millennials are expected to stay more than five years when given more flexibility at work [Deloitte Millennials Survey]. However there are downsides to promoting some aspects of flexibility, such as working from home. When people are not present in the office it can impact the social aspect of working face-to-face in a team. Despite our connected business world, working remotely online can lead to disconnection or even loneliness. Roles that require regular open and collaborative communication can also be frustrated by flexible working. A lot of managers report finding it hard to adapt to managing people who they can’t see, which means we still need to work on addressing those concerns.
On the upside, allowing employees to work flexibly can have a massive impact on people’s health. Stress is well-known to be one of the biggest causes of illness, leading to a number of other physical health related problems. For those of us who never seem to have personal time, flexible working hours reduce the stress caused by other pressures in life, allowing us to adapt our schedules to accommodate commitments such as family, sports activities, other hobbies and interests or just get a few chores done. It further relieves pressure on transport infrastructure, saving commuting time, which has environmental and health benefits for those travelling as well.
A major downside to flexible working is that it doesn’t suit everyone, nor every job. Flexible working doesn’t work for people who can’t motivate themselves; some people need supervision to get on with the job. With flexibility comes responsibility, so while there’s no harm in putting on a load of washing while you work, other distractions (your phone, social media, online shopping, what’s going on outside…) are still present. Some managers are still beholden to presenteeism, so if you’re not seen, you may be overlooked to contribute on interesting projects or miss out on career development opportunities.
I understand that flexible working isn’t for everyone and some jobs just aren’t that flexible. But I do think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and more people should be given flexible working opportunities. Would anyone begrudge that spending a few more hours each week with their families and friends, enjoying hobbies, reading, exercising and travelling wouldn’t have a positive impact on their professional life? To varying degrees it’s already happening in some industries. It’s up to us to make it work.