Many UK workers are afraid to ask their leaders for flexible hours, according to a new report from recruitment firm Badenoch & Clark.
Published on 31 October, the report – based upon a survey of 1,500 employees – suggests that job-satisfaction levels are running particularly high among the UK workforce, with opportunities for flexible working helping to drive the upbeat mood. Entitled Leading Today’s Multi-generational Workforce, the report says that “more than two-thirds of the people we surveyed described themselves as happy or very happy at work. We asked what factors – other than salary – are most important to workplace happiness, and flexible working was a clear winner at 33%”.
The report notes: “It's no surprise that flexible working is important to many employees and lots of organisations now have agile working policies in place, with technology enabling flexible working patterns.”
However, it points out: “It was also the benefit that people are most uncomfortable asking about during a job interview,” with 18% of the sample feeling awkward about broaching the subject. The report highlights other hours-related areas that staff find it hard to discuss, with 13% feeling least comfortable with talking to their bosses about holiday entitlement, and another 13% wary of asking about career-break opportunities such as sabbaticals.
Badenoch & Clark operations director Nikki Colman said: “In order to remain competitive in the UK’s current skills-gap environment – which could be compounded further by Brexit – organisations need to pull out all the stops. But clearly there is more that can be done to not just make jobseekers feel comfortable asking about this, but actively promote their approach to flexible working as part of the recruitment process. Those businesses who make sure that flexible working does not become an ‘off-limits benefit’ will have a competitive advantage in the war for talent.” 
So how can companies ensure that staff feel okay with asking about flexible-working arrangements?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Since we published our Flexible Working: Goodbye Nine to Five report, our subsequent research in this field has revealed how much people value flexible working. Its benefits are by no means restricted to people with caring responsibilities. Indeed, we have found that the autonomy and sense of control that people are able to assert over their working lives hold significant, motivational appeal. For companies that are unable to pay high salaries, flexible working is a brilliant non-financial reward that they can offer their employees. Plus – as this new report suggests – it cheers people up: staff simply enjoy being able to work flexibly.”
Cooper explains: “it’s important to instil your organisation with a culture in which flexible working is not merely an attractive option, but actively celebrated. Of course, there have been problems in the past whereby some firms have experienced a split between non-flexible and flexible staff, with the former suspecting that the latter are not truly working. However, with so many firms now reducing their office space in favour of remote working, and shuffling tasks around a blend of permanent, flexible and gig workers, those sorts of preconceptions have begun to subside. That’s certainly a healthy development, as it gets rid of any needless factionalism over the issue.”
She notes: “when I spoke about flexible working to the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group, one theme I really stressed was that flexible working comes with a strong business case. You can use it to the advantage of the business, as well as to that of the individual. The more organisations acknowledge and embrace that business case, the more they will create a cultural climate in which staff feel okay with asking to work flexibly.”
Cooper adds: “there are all sorts of ways to manage this. It may be the case that certain staffers work longer days during the busiest times of the year, and then much more sporadically during the less-busy times in order to compensate. But overall, it’s about understanding that flexible working is good for everyone.”
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