“What’s the business case for flexible working?” is the question we get asked most frequently by employers. There are some clear answers. From finding and keeping the best people to cutting overheads, here are the reasons why forward-looking businesses are making flexible working a priority.
If you want to get your hands on the very best people in your industry, you need to take flexible working seriously. 87% of full-time workers either work flexibly already, or wish they could. The numbers are similar for men (84%) and women (91%). And amongst people who are not currently working, 93% want a job that includes some sort of flexibility.
But according to the 2017 Timewise Flexible Jobs Index, only 1 in 10 jobs paying more than £20k are advertised with flexible working options. This huge gap between supply and demand means that offering flexibility gives you a bigger pool of candidates to choose from. It will also give you the edge over your less flexible rivals.
Once you’ve got the best people in, and spent time and money training them, it makes sense to try and keep them. And whereas financial incentives only tend to buy short term loyalty, real flexibility is harder to come by – and so more likely to encourage people to stay.
A survey by the CIPD1 backs this theory up, with 75% of employers saying that flexible working has a positive effect on retention and 73% saying it improves staff motivation. So, if you want to hang on to your star employees, offering them flexibility is a great place to start.
True flexibility isn’t a one-off negotiating tool. If you build it into every level of your organisation, you won’t just encourage your staff to stay; you’ll allow them to progress too.
By making flexible working available within senior and board roles, you’ll provide your flexible employees with a clear career pathway. This will allow your organisation to make the most of their skills and experience, rather than leaving them stuck in roles that don’t make the best of their abilities.
You’re also likely to increase the proportion of women at a senior level, which is known to bring a wider perspective into decision making, and to help close the gender pay gap.
The role that flexible working plays in improving female representation at senior level is also important from a diversity perspective.
According to a report by McKinsey, gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to achieve financial returns above their industry average. And given that most companies now have a formal diversity policy, flexibility is a useful tool in improving your gender balance.
It’s often assumed that flexible workers are less engaged and less productive than their full-time peers. In fact, the opposite is true.
A survey by BT in 2014 found that the productivity of flexible workers increased by 30%. And in a study of flexible workers undertaken by Cranfield University2, 97% of managers said the quantity of work improved or stayed the same and 93% said the quality of the work improved or stayed the same.
It’s an obvious point, perhaps, but by allowing your employees to work remotely, you’re likely to have less people in the building at once.
This can allow you to reduce both your office space and your carbon footprint, and cut your business overheads significantly. For example, BT have stated that reducing their physical office space through flexibility has yielded global savings of £100 million a year.
But you don’t have to take our word for all this. Businesses agree, too: the 2015 CBI Employment Trends Report states that almost all businesses (94%) believe flexibility is vital or important to the competitiveness of the UK’s labour market and for prospects for investment and job creation.
1 “Flexible Working Provision and Uptake”, CIPD
2 Cranfield University/Working Families 2008: “Flexible Working and Performance”