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      Flexible working: The benefits and the rules

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      Study after study is revealing that companies which offer flexible working conditions have happier staff, fewer absences and are more likely to attract and retain top talent. Lisa Carter reports…

      Flexible working is no longer seen as a perk, with employees now actively seeking places that allow them to better juggle the work/life balance.

      Events specialist Wildgoose recently published the findings of its Flexible Working survey which revealed changing attitudes to employment.

      The results showed that in organisations where flexible working isn’t allowed, almost 15 per cent of employees are seriously considering moving to a more flexible organisation, with another 42 per cent likely to have their heads turned should a more flexible role come along.

      These statistics present a real danger for companies who fail to catch on, as they could find themselves struggling to attract and retain top talent who seek a more flexible working style.

      Other significant survey findings highlight the positive impact flexible working can have on mental health, with 39 per cent of employees seeing a marked improvement in their mental health since starting a more flexible work routine. A further 43 per cent of UK employees (who currently don’t have the option to work flexibly) feel that in doing so, they would be able to better manage their mental health.

      These figures not only demonstrate compelling wellbeing benefits, but also business benefits as companies who adopt flexible working will likely see a drop in workplace absence.  

      “The results from our survey highlight the real benefits that adopting flexible working can offer to both employees and employers,” says Wildgoose founder and MD Jonny Edser. “At Wildgoose, we understand that everyone has a life outside of work that doesn’t always fit around the typical 9-5. Trusting your employees to work at times that suit them is fundamental to maintaining productivity and employee wellbeing. If companies value the contribution their staff bring to the table, then giving them the freedom to flex their working hours is a no-brainer when it comes to keeping them.”

      Meanwhile, according to further research from office consultants Workthere, the ideal working week for UK-based office workers is 32 hours, six hours shorter than the current average 38-hour week, with the most favoured days being Monday to Thursday.

      In a survey of over 2,000 UK office workers, the serviced office specialist found that having access to flexible working hours is hugely important – with only three per cent of respondents claiming that flexible working does not benefit them in any way.

      “Flexibility in the workplace is vital when it comes to attracting and retaining talent,” agrees Cal Lee, head of Workthere. “There has historically been a common misconception in the office that working longer hours means you get more done and you are more dedicated. However, it is important to note that working longer hours does not always lead to higher output and could have the opposite effect for productivity. The fact that the ideal working week is six hours shorter than the current average working week is a key indicator that, whilst work is still an essential factor, the needs and preferences of the UK office workforce are changing.

      “It is very interesting to note from our responses that, whilst having an office is still very important to the younger generation, the ability to work flexibly and spend more time working remotely is also an option that they want to benefit from.”

      What are the rules of flexible working?

      AXA PPP Healthcare recently produced a guide called ‘What are the rules on flexible working?’, following the introduction of new legislation. Here are some highlights…

      The rules

      Previously only parents of children under 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) or carers for dependant adults had the right to request flexible working arrangements from their employers. With the new legislation the same entitlement now applies to all employees, providing they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks.

      However, it’s important to be aware that, just as before for parents and carers, the new legislation only enables employees to make a request. It does not require employers to grant it, though they must have a sound business reason for rejecting a request.

      Are there any potential disadvantages for the health and wellbeing of workers?

      Managers need to be mindful that flexible working could mean their staff do not stop working. Removing the need to physically leave the workplace at the end of the day/shift can tempt workers into working overtime, which managers may not be aware of when their staff are working remotely. Flexible working may also increase ‘presenteeism’ (working when unwell but not at full capacity), with employees who are working from home carrying on working when they could, reasonably, have taken a day’s sick leave.

      There is also a possibility that workers based remotely may feel more isolated in general and may communicate less with their managers. As a consequence managers may be less able to identify potential issues developing with employees’ health, such as mental illness. This can be more challenging for managers who might already struggle with addressing issues of wellbeing with other members of their team.

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      Stuart O'Brien

      All stories by: Stuart O'Brien