Why now’s the time to embrace flexible working

In a flexible working arrangement, an employee has some say over how, where or when they work. Whether this involves working from home, working part-time, job sharing or having another kind of flexitime arrangement, generally workers benefit from an element of freedom to define a working arrangement that supports their lifestyle.

Tom Neil is a guidance writer for ACAS, the non-departmental body of the Government that works throughout the UK to prevent and resolve employment disputes. “All employees who have worked for their employer for more than 26 weeks are entitled to make a request for flexible working,” he explains. However, whilst half of UK employers offer flexible working arrangements, a recent CBI report found that just one in 10 job listings mention flexible working. “More work needs to be done on understanding the benefits that flexible working can bring to an organisation,” says Neil.

So, can flexible working arrangements benefit both employers and employees? And, what are the barriers preventing our workplaces from adopting these practices on a much wider scale?

The benefits of flexible working

Neil explains that for employees, the benefits of flexible working are often focused on improving their work-life balance, as well as looking after their health and wellbeing. However these arrangements also impact positively on productivity. “Research from the CIPD has shown that implementing flexible working practices can improve staff engagement and motivation,” Neil says. Natalie Pancheri, HR Policy Adviser at the London School of Economics (LSE) agrees. “The benefits of flexible working are well established, from increased employee engagement to better performance,” she says.

What are the barriers?

Ellis used to work as a joiner, but after having her daughter, she knew she’d have to find a job which offered a flexible working arrangement. Ellis went back to college as a mature student and retrained as a counsellor. She began working for a charity that was supportive of her needs, but was later made redundant as a result of government cuts. “It took me from May till September to find a job that allowed me to work around my daughter,” she explains. None of the roles Ellis initially applied for in that interim period were willing to offer job splits – all wanted one person who could work full-time.

Ellis’s situation is not unique. According to an annual survey conducted by workingmums.co.uk, the lack of flexible working options, along with childcare costs, prevent mothers from returning to work. “Our recent survey showed 18% of mums had been forced to leave their work when flexible working was not allowed,” confirms Garner.