Employers missing a trick when it comes to the benefits of flexible working

person-at-workIt has been over two years since the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees with six months’ service. However, new research from My Family Care, the UK’s leading provider of family-friendly employer solutions, and global recruitment experts, Hydrogen, has revealed a significant disconnect between the high numbers of people who want to work flexibly and the low numbers of employers who actively embrace it.

The survey of 1587 UK employees and 310 UK employers found that while over half (54%) of the UK’s working population want the opportunity to work remotely or from home, just a third (34%) were encouraged to, with many feeling a constant stigma around it.

Similarly, there was a big disconnect between the hours that people work and want to work.  While just over a third (37%) of people have flexible start and finish times, almost DOUBLE that (63%) said they wanted flexible start and finish times, suggesting that employers could do a lot more to engage their workforce by introducing flexible working policies.

Flexible working is in such high demand that it is by far the top benefit that people look for when considering a new role – with 81% looking for flexible working options before joining a company, way beyond any other typical benefit such as an enhanced pension scheme(35%), private healthcare insurance (28%) or commission (28%).  In fact, 53% of employees would rather have flexible working over a 5% salary increase while of those who would sacrifice a pay rise for benefits – 45% would choose flexible working over a 10% salary increase.

The prioritisation of flexible working when looking for a new role was particularly true amongst parents of young children with 86% saying so, while 81% of adult dependant carers agreed.  This comes in the wake of another recent study by Digital Mums which found that more than two thirds of stay at home mothers with young children would go back to work IF flexible working was an option.

Ben Black, Director of My Family Care says: “With so many of any given workforce having some kind of caring or family responsibility, the benefits of flexible working are vast. With the rising number of working mothers in the UK, the increase in pension age, a rapidly ageing population – and the emergence of the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ where individuals are called upon to care for both their children and elderly relatives – businesses need to see the value in offering flexible working to attract and retain top quality staff.  The ‘bums on seats’ culture is on the way out.  Flexible working is the future; it should not even be seen as a ‘benefit’ but simply the best way of getting things done: it helps individuals create a happy and healthy work-life balance that is essential to get the very best out of an individual.”

However, there appears to be an enduring stigma surrounding flexible working, with more women (26%) than men (18%) worrying that working flexibly would impact on their career prospects.  However, the research found that flexibility itself was equally important to both genders.

Ian Temple, CEO of Hydrogen, says: “The way we work is radically changing in our digitally connected world. However, our research has found that while demand is very high for flexible working, many companies are not capitalising on this by encouraging it through the marketing of their roles or promoting it internally, which would increase the pool of talent they could attract.”

The research outlined the top five benefits of flexible working being productivity, the attraction of top talent, talent retention, a better work-life balance and happier employees.  In fact, 87% of employees and 92% of employers believed that those who work flexibly are just as, if not more, productive than those who work regular hours.

In the analysis by sector, it transpired that those who work in tech want to work remotely the most (75%), closely followed by accountancy(72%) and finance (64%).  Similarly, it is the tech industry that is leading the way with flexible start and finish times – with 77% adding this to their wish list, followed by 74% of those who work in the energy sector and 67% of those who work in accountancy and finance.

The findings were revealed at a Think Tank Event led by My Family Care and Hydrogen and hosted by global law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, on Wednesday 12th October where 100 HR and Diversity leaders looked into the needs, wants and challenges faced by employees and employers when it comes to flexible and family friendly working.

Of the challenges faced, the research highlighted, over a quarter (28%) of employees said they don’t feel comfortable talking to their employer about introducing a more fluid working pattern.  The top reasons for this were:

Being seen as less committed to the business (51%)
Worried it would impact their chances of future promotions and pay increases (31%)
Their employers would think they were trying to get out of work (30%).

So what is the future of flexible working?  My Family Care and Hydrogen’s research found that over half (55%) of millennials would like flexible start and finish times while nearly a quarter (24%) would like to work remotely more than once a week – suggesting that the concept of doing conventional working hours at your desk will soon be a thing of the past.

Of the 1587 employees asked, over half (52%) said that it will be more challenging for organisations to retain staff if they don’t offer flexible working while 51% of people believe flexible working will become the norm for all businesses.

My Family Care and Hydrogen have created a full report entitled ‘The competitive advantage of flexible and family friendly working’.


About the Research : The flexible working research was undertaken in July 2016 by MRS accredited research agency, Atomik Research, for My Family Care and Hydrogen and their Report ‘The competitive advantage of flexible and family friendly working’.  It was an evaluation of answers from 1587 employees based in the UK and 310 employers (HR specialists) in the UK.

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