Employees want flexibility not raises

It’s 2020 and technology has made it easy to work from anywhere. For me, as a consultant, all that I need are a laptop and internet access. We live in a world where meetings can be facilitated online, employees can work from home or anywhere they wish, and many jobs can be done at any time during the day or night. Many of the restrictions that required employees to be in a set place at a set time no longer exist. While some countries and companies have done a wonderful job of making flexible work available to their employees, there is still room for improvement.

Every generation of employees has a reason for wanting flexible work:

  • Many Baby Boomers prefer to ease into retirement through flexible work rather than leave employment cold turkey
  • Generation X is trying to balance their roles as care givers (to ageing parents and children) with their work responsibilities
  • Gen Y (Millennials) and Z have always been wanted flexible work conditions

Besides these generational specific desires, each generation has interests and commitments outside of work that requires their time and energy.

Research on flexible work in the US and UK has revealed some expected and interesting characteristics.

  • An expected characteristic is that people want flexible work
    • Deloitte did some research in the US and found that 94% of respondents stated that work life balance would be beneficial for them in terms of stress reduction, improved mental health, better balance between work and personal life.
    • A survey conducted in the EU in 2018 found that in the UK
      • 70% of respondents wanted flextime,
      • 28% wanted part- time work
      • 29% wanted to work from home
    • In fact a another study found that about 1/3 of respondents preferred flexible hours over a pay raise. Other findings included:
      • 81% of women stated that flexible work would make a job more appealing
      • 69% of men would view employers who offer flexible work more favorably.

Now here is where the whole idea of flexible work gets interesting. Despite the interest, research has shown that a disconnect exists between the availability of flexible work and uptake by employees. One of the reasons for this, is that people are concerned with how flexible work would impact their career growth. Let’s look at some of the stats.

  • The Deloitte study found the following:
    • 30% of respondents were deterred from taking up flexible work options because of its potential impact on their professional growth and lack of trust by their leadership.
    • 80% of respondents believed that holding regular office hours and working from the company office was important to career advancement.
  • The EU study found that although 80% of UK respondents said that flexible work was available to them, only 59% of respondents used the options.
    • 32% said that they were actively discouraged from using it by managers or supervisors
    • 30% said believed that it would damage their careers (30%)
    • 30% believed that they work colleagues disapproved of its use.

This has implications for companies who are currently offering flexible work and those who are considering. The major takeaway is that employees want the option however, as with all things, implementation must be carefully considered.

Based on the concerns, one of the major areas for consideration is securing the buy in of managers and supervisors. Manager’s may be concerned with flexibility for a number of reasons:

  • They may be concerned with their perceived lack of control over how the employee is spending their time
  • They may have concerns around how to measure the performance of flexible workers, they may even be concerned about allowing employees with existing performance issues to engage in flexible work
  • They may also be concerned with the perceived extra work load of balancing differing schedules, keeping everyone satisfied and still ensuring that departmental goals are met.

So what can be done to help managers/ supervisors facilitate the implementation of flexible working?

  • Ensure that they are clearly aware of the benefits o; the benefits that seem to be most impactful to them are those around recruitment and retention specifically that it make the company more attractive to a wider talent pool in areas with skills shortages. It also financial benefits from the perspective of allowing them to manage the budgets more efficiently in line with the organisations needs because the human resources can be better allocated according to need reducing over capacity.
  • Provide the support needed to help managers/ supervisors implement flexible working
    • Learn from similar companies or other parts of the organisation that has successfully implemented flexi work
    • Provide support in designing roles in a way that allows them to be flexible especially those that are traditionally seen to be anti- flexi work like customer facing roles
    • Help them think through how to utilize the skills on the team to manage any perceived additional work
    • Provide them with the necessary knowledge through training/ coaching and guidance as they implement flexible work

One of the questions that could be asked is “flexible work is even worth the effort?” It may be clear from the perspective of the employee in that it helps them to better balance the work and non work areas of their lives, it allows them to have flexibility for emergencies and other interests and commitments. It improves their health and it improves their health and well being. What about the organisation, are their enough benefits to justify the “stress” of implementation. Well research has shown that the benefits to the organisation include:

  • It positively impacts work performance by increasing productivity and work quality
  • Creates a more positive culture in which employees feel valued
  • Employees are more willing to go above and beyond the call of duty as a way of “giving back” to the organisation
  • Employers are better able to balance their workforce against the needs of the organisation
  • Creates a more divers and inclusive workforce as it creates opportunities for those who couldn’t have considered it without flexible work. A diverse workforce is positively linked to innovation.

I’ve only considered a portion of what is required to successfully implement flexible working, hopefully it whets your appetites and sets you on a path of pursuing what it would take for your organisation to do so. For more information and guidance check out the CIPD’s guide entitled “Cross sector insights on enabling flexible working” gives some good recommendations on how to implement flexible working.