A push for more jobs to be advertised as flexible by default is a key part of a new campaign to boost awareness and uptake of flexible working.
Unveiled on 14 January by the Flexible Working Task Force – a joint initiative from the CIPD and the UK government – the campaign has launched at a time when the adoption of alternative working hours could use a boost. 
Indeed, a new CIPD report published to herald the campaign  warns that the number of employees using formal, flexible working arrangements – such as part-time working, term-time working, compressed hours and job-sharing – has flat-lined since 2010. That’s despite the right to request flexible working being extended to all employees in 2014.
The report notes: “A challenge for public policy may lie in stimulating awareness of the full range of flexible working possibilities, and of how to make them work, given the limited management time and knowledge in many firms, especially smaller firms. The public sector may have a role as a testbed and exemplar.”
It points out: “The potential benefits of flexible working are being missed because of unsupportive manager attitudes, limited available options and the negative assumptions of some employees about flexible working, for example that their job may be at risk if they seek to change their working patterns.”
The campaign sets out to explain that flexible working can:
- improve productivity by increasing employee motivation;
- boost job satisfaction, engagement and wellbeing;
- help organisations to retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities, and
- create more diverse workforces, which will reduce the gender pay gap.
CIPD chief executive and Task Force co-chair Peter Cheese said: “Providing more flexible opportunities for how, when and where people work should be part of every organisation’s strategy to attract and retain the talent and skills they need. Employers need to consider and address the barriers holding them back from adopting flexible working practices more widely – be it entrenched organisational cultures or making sure line managers are trained to support and manage flexible workers.”
He added: “By encouraging many more jobs to be advertised as flexible as the default option, the Task Force is challenging outdated attitudes to flexible working that still prevail in some organisations and laying down a marker for other employers to follow.”
Would such an approach help to shake awareness of flexible working out of its current, flat-lined condition – or would it present organisations with administrative challenges?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “From my own experience, I know that if I were to advertise a job as flexible and home based, I would receive so many more applications than if the post were advertised with set hours and rooted to a specific office environment. That’s because straight away, I would be widening my talent pool – including people who cannot, for whatever reason, be constrained, or those who simply don’t want to be hemmed in by traditional working hours and the requirement to attend the same premises day after day.”
Cooper points out: “Even in people-critical industries, there are ways and means of introducing flexible options – and the appetite within those sectors has been there for much longer than is often assumed. As far back as 20 years ago, I did some work with the NHS to help them with the selection of senior nurses, and a personnel official happened to comment that the days of the huge, eight-to-eight double-shift were over and that hospitals’ approach to working hours was looking increasingly archaic.
“Of course, leaders can arrange shift patterns that are suitable for the demands upon their organisations’ services – because after all, it’s a logistics-based, planning problem. In a world where there are all sorts of software tools that enable us to extend scheduling well into the future, it’s not analogous to the firefighting that so often crops up to grapple with unexpected eventualities.”
Cooper explains: “As Peter Cheese suggests, it requires a different sort of management style: one that is more trusting, more hands off and more adept at communicating. That third point is particularly important, given the absence of the cues you get when you speak to staff face to face. If you’re sharing an office with somebody, you will naturally pick up so much about their mood and motivation – plus their level of enthusiasm for organisational initiatives – from their body language and the way they behave. But if you are having to rely upon the telephone or, even worse, email, you are not going to get any of that.”
As such, she adds: “The managerial bedrock that supports flexible working is an altogether harder proposition, requiring you to enhance your leadership skills. Essentially, you have to be more thoughtful – until, of course, that management style crystallises as an integral part of the way you do things, and becomes second nature.
“No doubt the challenge of going through that process is why there is still some resistance to flexible working. But if you want to widen your talent pool – and if you want to secure the morale and loyalty I talked about in this week’s previous blog – then yes: by all means, advertise your jobs as flexible.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out The Institute’s resources on understanding HR