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Flexible working and well-being: a Timewise Roundtable briefing

Insights and experiences from Timewise and business leaders on how flexible working is being used to boost employee well-being.


Employee well-being is a workplace issue that desperately needs tackling. In the UK, a huge number of working days are lost to ill health (32.5 million in 2019/20) and stress, depression and anxiety (18 million). We know that flexible working can support employee well-being – but we also know there isn’t a one size fits all solution.

While the pandemic helped focus leaders’ attention on their employees’ well-being, and normalised the concept of working from home, it also had some negative effects, as people struggled to keep their home and working lives separate. And critically, the changes driven by the pandemic have happened in a reactive way, rather than a proactive one.

Additionally, we are now in a new, also difficult era, dominated by the cost of living crisis. Right now, financial issues are affecting the well-being of many employees, and employers are increasingly willing to think creatively about how they can offer support.

The result is a ‘golden window’ in which businesses are considering the health and well-being of their staff more than ever before.  So we invited three business leaders to join us to discuss this at our recent roundtable: Richard Martin, Executive Officer of the Mindful Business Charter; Rebecca Ormond, Inclusive Workplace Leader at PWC; and Jordan Cummins, the CBI’s first Director of Health.

Insights and actions

So, what should employers do to boost employees’ well-being in the current climate? Here are the key themes that came out of our roundtable discussion.

Review pandemic-driven decisions – and make changes where needed

The new, more flexible ways of working that evolved during the pandemic were often brought in at speed. And while they have been positive in many ways, they can also be a barrier to well-being.

For example, the removal of the boundaries between work and home has led to an expectation of being always on. And while some employees relish skipping the commute and getting more time to spend with family, there are others who feel burnt out by work creep, and miss the connections that being fully office-based brought.

Similarly, while hybrid working is seen by many as the best of both worlds, it is not without its problems. There is a risk of two track workforces developing, in which those who continue to work from home are sidelined, affecting their well-being as well as their careers. Research from the CMI indicate it’s already happening, with 40% of managers saying they have observed opinions or behaviours suggesting inequality between those who work in a hybrid way and those who don’t.

Employers should therefore take a proactive look at how decisions made during the pandemic are affecting employee well-being – and make changes where needed. This includes supporting employees to reinstate the boundaries between home and work, and taking action to ensure that the flexibility on offer is fair and inclusive. The result will be truly flexible working arrangements that benefit both the business and the employee.

Increase your understanding of your employees’ circumstances and needs

A key part of this review – and of creating sustainable well-being strategies going forwards – will be to understand what issues people are dealing with and how the business can help.

Gathering data on well-being can be hard, but people are increasingly willing to disclose details about their circumstances – and will be even more so if they understand that this may lead to greater flexibility. Set out a framework of information you think would be useful to gather, and pulse check regularly.

Shift your approach to well-being and become a prevention workplace

The positioning of well-being within an organisation is central to its success. One positive step to take is to stop treating health and well-being as a cost, and instead consider it as an asset to be invested in, like sustainability.

This will lead to well-being being seen as a competitive advantage, rather than a burden, and help you focus on preventing poor well-being, rather than reacting to it. Ideas for supporting this include:

  • Creating the role of Chief Medical Officer – increasingly happening in large firms.
  • Developing Mental Health First Aiders – critically, from across the business, including HR, and not just at line manager level.
  • Establishing a mental health advocates group – which includes leaders willing to talk about their own mental health, to role model openness and help break the stigma.

And of course, proactively offering well-designed flexible roles, which allow employees to better balance their work and home lives, is central to being a prevention workplace.

Encourage a culture of openness and trust between line managers and teams

Building on the above, line managers should be encouraged to have open conversations about well-being with their team members. It’s a big leap for many managers to go from talking about workload to talking about well-being, but it becomes easier once a culture is established in which these conversations are not only acceptable, but preferable. Things to think about:

  • Some line managers may fear becoming counsellors rather than managers, so bespoke training is needed.
  • Conversations about well-being should be separated out from conversations about performance and renumeration.
  • Team members should be reassured that they don’t have to share everything; even a topline chat can help. For example, knowing that someone is caring for an elderly relative is enough to establish a need for additional flexibility.
  • Managers should be reassured that having these discussions are unlikely to open the floodgates; often all it takes is a small schedule tweak. Taking elder carers as an example, being able to flex start times so they can pop in to see their parents on the way to work could make a big difference.

It’s worth remembering that most employees want to achieve and do their best at work; the business simply needs to trust and support them to do so. And that includes exploring which kinds of flexibility will make that possible.

Explore the impact of the way your organisation works

As well as putting initiatives in place to support well-being, it is also important to look at your structures and processes; in reality, it’s often the way people work that creates stress. This includes the nature of the work itself and organisational expectations, as well as how individuals interact.

A key part of resolving this is to develop a company-wide conversation about how your team members are working with each other. Then act on it in your structures and processes. For example:

  • If you’re starting a new project, take time to plan out how people’s flexible needs can be balanced with the timescales, so that deadlines can be hit with the least possible harm to everyone involved.
  • A similar process could be built into kick-off meetings with new clients. If your teams have flexible start and finish times, to fit in well-being boosters such as early morning exercise or to enable stress-free school drop-offs, set this out early to manage expectations.

Again, little things can make a big difference; thinking about when you schedule meetings, or even send emails, can reduce stress and underpin your commitment to flexible working.

Address the impact of the economic crisis clearly and swiftly

Whilst employers are not responsible for the cost of living crisis, they do have a duty to support their employees to navigate it as best they can. And being clear in communications is absolutely critical. Observations from our panel included:

  • Don’t use platitudes, such as “Don’t worry, this will pass.”  People are worried, right now, about the present as well as the future.
  • Take swift action. Even if you haven’t yet decided what exactly you will do, make a clear statement explaining that you are thinking about it, and exploring what you can do to help.
  • If you are planning to target your help to those in most need, be clear about the details. People will need to understand who is getting help, when it will start and where any tapering may kick in. Your employees will be making plans, and need to know the parameters of any potential support.

Of course, this kind of support doesn’t have to be limited to a financial crisis; some companies are already looking at how they can support their employees’ financial wellbeing. Initiatives include offering pension planning to parents and carers who have taken career breaks, or providing a financial well-being expert who can explain what benefits are available and how to access them.

It’s also worth noting that part-time opportunities can support financial well-being. Offering high-level part-time jobs within your organisation could help parents, carers and others who can’t work full-time to progress their careers and increase their incomes. And doing the same when recruiting could open doors to help others back into the workplace (as well as widening your talent pool).


With learnings from the pandemic ripe for analysis, and the cost of living crisis likely to continue, it feels like the right time for employers to develop and embed their commitment to employee well-being. For the best chance of success, flexible working should be at the heart of any approach; if you need support with this, please do get in touch.

Published October 2022

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