The term ‘flexible working’ encompasses the range of non-9 to 5 hours including: working from home, part-time work, and job-sharing.
From June 2014, any employee with more than 26 weeks continuous employment has been able to make a request for flexible working. Further, The Labour Party have recently said that they intend to make flexible working a right for all employees.
There is more than one theory to origins of the 9 – 5 working day concept. The one I like is reformer, Robert Owen’s, concept of, “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest”, as the most productive state for the working man. Hence, in theory, we work from 9 – 5, and sleep and play during the other 16 hours of the day. Now as anyone who has clicked the link will see, Mr Owen wrote this back during the 1800s. At this time we were talking mostly about factory and labour intensive work which also relied upon daylight hours. Now, as the job market continues to develop, and we spend more and more of our working lives online, there is a creeping acceptance that remote working is the future one way or another. Yet, there is still a resistance to the idea of employees not being physically present in the office.
Flexible working, at its best, should promote a happier and more productive workforce. Most office workers will admit that there is a lot of downtime, and those who work part-time tend to utilise their time more efficiently, and have fewer days off sick than their full-time counterparts.
The opportunity of flexible working is usually an attractive perk when both recruiting and retaining staff, and it can also be a way of avoiding redundancies if necessary.
In larger companies, it can be used to facilitate a diverse/cross-border workforce, who can work around the clock.
And it can also be used as a tool to make savings on office space. If only 50% of your staff are physically present at any one time, then you need far less workspace than you would need if they were all always present at the same time.
So those are the good points. What are the negatives?
Well, the concept of ‘flexi working’ tends to assume that everyone works in an office performing a role which it is easy to delegate or share. Most of us, for example, prefer to see the same GP when we visit our surgery, or would prefer our children to be taught by the same teacher five days a week. The same person in the same role allows a relationship to build and promotes continuity. If that role is being performed by more than one person, this may challenge that. It can also be time consuming and annoying for everyone involved having to repeat the same requests or go over the same ground on each visit.
Sometimes it just isn’t possible for a business to accommodate everyone’s request for flexi-working. In those incidences an employer needs to decide how to manage them. Usually, is is parents and carers who will take priority but this can lead to resentment from other staff and even leave the employer open to claims of discrimination.
In regard to resentment, there may be a feeling that those who work part-time leave their full-time colleagues to pick up the ‘grunt work’. Or, a feeling that an employer is biased towards full-time staff when making allocating jobs. This can cause resentment on all sides.
Ultimately, however, if truth be told, the main barrier to more employers offering flexi-working is probably one of trust. Some employers say they simply do not trust their staff to get on with the work without supervision. This by itself raises a lot of questions, including:
- Why are you employing people you don’t really trust?
- Why don’t you trust them?
- What exactly do you think will happen if you withdraw supervision?
Ironically, in my own experience, the vast majority of workers who are offered and accept flexi-working, are so pleased to have the opportunity, that they usually go above and beyond what is expected of them. A lot of my female friends who returned to work on a part-time basis after having children say quite openly that they are doing the same amount of work as before, but for less pay. Most believe, however, that they are being given a perk and do not want to lose it.
Perhaps once again, the negative attitude of some employers is a hangover, like the 9-5 working day, from the old factory system?
I would argue that overall the advantages for both employer and employee generally outweigh the drawbacks. Flexi-working is what most of us want, and it is a huge carrot for both existing and potential employees. With a slight change of mindset, and a good HR manager, a reluctant employer may well find that their productivity increases and their staff love them! What’s to lose?
Do you work or employ people on a flexi basis? What do you think are the pros and the cons?