What can employers learn from flexible working?
Contrary to the traditional views, employers have a lot to gain from this increased flexibility. Following the extension of flexible working rights last year coupled with the rise of bring your own device (BYOD), the boundaries of the traditional working life are becoming increasingly blurred. The idea of ‘working’ is now no longer simply confined to the four walls of an office.
Recent research from Ernst & Young (EY) indicates that flexible working could add £8.5bn to the UK through more productive use of working and recreational hours. In addition, the research revealed that two out of three firms believe flexible working can assist in increasing motivation and commitment whilst improving overall employee relations.
This is reinforced by Regus’s 2014 study which showed that 74 per cent of business owners and senior managers viewed flexible working as beneficial to employee retention and 72 per cent stated that it was an effective strategy to attract new talent to the organisation.
The flexible approach
At least part of the reason why flexible working is becoming so popular concerns the changing attitudes of the workforce. As the baby boomers transition into retirement, millennials are preparing to take hold of the reins and their expectations of work and reward are considerably different to those of their predecessors. On average, the modern worker widely supports the prospect of being able to customise their benefits, favouring their own development and wellbeing over financial incentives. According to PwC’s 2013 study into generational differences, millennials value work-life balance and personal growth opportunities more than any other aspect of work and employee rewards. In addition, by building a strong community within the workplace, millennial employees develop greater loyalty to their organisation – a factor that weighs-in heavily when deciding whether to remain with one employer or look for better opportunities elsewhere. Knowing that their employees want to be valued whilst being provided with the tools to further their skills and realise long-term career potential is critical for business leaders wanting to retain their best and brightest talent.
For those who remain unconvinced – consider the costs and staff turnover that result when organisations ignore the trend. Recent survey results from Go2HR indicate that insufficient training is one of the greatest motivators for employees to look for a new job, with 40 per cent of poorly trained workers leaving their positions within the very first year of service. When asked specifically why they had made the decision to leave, these employees cited a distinct lack of skills training and development as the primary motivator.
A new reward strategy
Professional development was once considered a necessity to ensure that skilled workers with leadership potential were prepared to take on positions of greater responsibility to achieve future success for the company. In the modern business world, development opportunities have instead become an incentive in their own right and employers are beginning to recognise the need to offer these new reward strategies to their younger employees.
However, in offering employees this level of flexibility and opportunity, the boundaries of the workplace can no longer remain solid and must instead become malleable to coincide with flexible work strategies. The use of personal mobile devices within the workplace provides an excellent example. Whereas the concept was once unacceptable, the relaxation of rules around these devices has led to employees completing work and accessing training materials whilst on the move, thereby utilising time that would otherwise be lost. It has also led to considerable improvements in productivity with workers being able to engage in work activities at times during which there are fewer distractions to divert them, particularly in the case of training courses which are commonly displaced by the workflow.
Driving self-directed learning through flexibility
Findings from a poll conducted at Skillsoft’s 2015 EMEA Perspectives Conference revealed that the majority of business leaders identified self-direction as the most successful method of employee development. By providing employees with a sense of ownership and allowing them to complete training in their own time, adoption and success rates for courses are substantially increased. For a generation that can rarely be seen without a mobile device in hand, the ability to access internet based learning content represents an opportunity to turn downtime into productive work.
The increasing pressure from employees and potential candidates seeking a more flexible work life balance is becoming an unavoidable consideration for employers and business leaders. Where some still view the concept with a degree of scepticism and uncertainty, others have correctly identified the numerous advantages of implementing a structured plan for flexible working schedules within their organisations.
Evidence has proven that employees with greater flexibility at work perform to higher standards, and demonstrate increased engagement both with the workflow and their colleagues. At a time where talent is such a valuable resource, the question is rapidly changing from whether businesses want to adopt flexible strategies, to whether they can afford not to.