The Business Case for Flexible Working – a guest blog

sarah-jackson-obeSarah Jackson OBE, CEO Working Families – “It’s fantastic to see the link between balanced workforces and productivity as a key pillar in the Scottish Business Pledge. This is at the heart of our work with employers during National Work-Life Week, our annual opportunity for employers to showcase how they practically support their employees’ work-life balance and wellbeing

Of course opening up workplaces to as wide a range of people as possible can only help to build the kind of opportunity that is the driving force behind the pledges. What’s refreshing is to see the economic benefit put at the centre of the case for introducing flexible and agile practices.

In our experience, even those employers that are at the cutting edge of innovative thinking about flexible and agile working are often battling internal perceptions that flexibility is about accommodating the needs of a particular employee. Thinking about flexibility at an individual level means that it hasn’t really become part of the way that employers carry out their work.

It’s certainly true that people are more likely to stay in a job that enables them to balance work and family life. More than six out of ten businesses have found that offering flexibility has a positive impact on their recruitment and retention costs. Four out of ten working fathers told us they’d be willing to take a pay cut in order to have more flexibility.

We’ve also found that flexibility is on offer in the recruitment process more often than it would seem at first glance – many candidates are able to successfully negotiate a flexible working pattern as part of the interview process. As well as relying on candidates having the confidence to initiate the discussion, this means that employers are adapting jobs post hoc.

A better approach would be to move to advertising all jobs as flexible as the norm rather than the exception. We’ve developed the Happy To Talk Flexible Working strapline for employers to use on a vacancy-by-vacancy basis to signal that they’re willing to have a discussion about flexibility. The real value of the strapline is that it prompts hiring managers to think through the best ways to get the job done before they write their advert. This approach means that managers take a bespoke approach to what kind of flexibility might be available: over hours, over location, over times of the year worked. It won’t be the same for all roles offered by the same employer but it does mean the vacancy attracts the widest possible pool of candidates.

There’s increasing concern about UK productivity levels which have stagnated in recent years, giving rise to anxiety about how we compare with some of our European neighbours. But studies have found that an increase in working time leads to a decrease in productivity whereas flexible arrangements can improve both productivity and job satisfaction.

We need to work smarter, not longer.

The challenge for those employers who really want to grasp the spirit of the Pledge is to deliver a triple agenda for work-life integration – where flexibility results in benefits for employees, benefits for businesses, and helps to deliver a fairer society.

Working Families is the UK’s leading work-life balance charity. We have produced a business case to help employers understand the benefits of flexible working”.