Lady working flexibly, colour

Flexible working: how does it impact productivity?

In traditional business structures, presence and productivity were seen as two sides of the same coin. However, the 9-to-5 working day is no longer seen as sacred, with more organisations beginning to factor flexibility into their people’s day-to-day.

Unemployment in the UK is at a 44-year low, while April 2019 saw the lowest US unemployment rate since December 1969. Talent is in high demand in these markets, and people with the right skills have a choice in which organisation they work for. With competition for high-quality talent getting tougher, the current candidate-driven jobs market poses something of a challenge for employers.

However, by meeting the needs of their people and creating an organisation to be proud of, HR managers can attract and retain the talent their business needs to thrive. In order to improve productivity and increase engagement, smart businesses are increasingly shunning rigid working schedules in favour of greater flexibility.

The case for flexibility in the workplace

We live in a hyper-connected world of smartphones and transcontinental Skype calls. Technological integration has made it harder to detach our personal lives from our jobs, and the concept of work-life balance has been replaced by work-life blend. In fluid and dynamic societies, maintaining rigid structures of how, where and when work is done makes little sense.

To be able to deal with the rigours of work and life effectively, people need the flexibility to sufficiently respond to these 21st-century demands — especially when we consider that more people are seeking more flexibility in their work. Here are some figures that underscore the growing movement towards greater flexibility:

  • People who are offered the option of flexible working take less leave and work more productively — putting in an extra 6.7 hours each week (AAT, 2018).
  • 51% of people say that they would change jobs in favour of one that offers flexitime (Gallup, 2018).
  • 53% of people say that a role which allows them to have greater work-life balance is “very important” (Gallup, 2017).
  • 74% of people say that ‘being able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion’ was “very important” (Ernst & Young, 2015).
  • 76% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a company that offered flexible working hours (Qualtrics, 2017).
  • Millennials are much more likely to stay in a role for more than five years if their company is flexible about where and when they work (Deloitte, 2017).

A flexible approach to work is far from revolutionary. For example, UK government legislation gives everyone a legal right to request flexible working. However, there’s still a lot of progress to be made. Despite 14.1 million in the UK workforce — over 40% of the working population — stating a desire to work flexibly, flexible working options are mentioned in only 6% of job adverts (Timewise, 2015).

Flexibility is not just something that people want and benefit from — it can also benefit businesses. What, then, are the challenges around this essential working practice, and how can businesses enable flexibility to deliver real benefits?

Provide your people with greater control to boost the business bottom line

“Flexibility is about an employee and an employer making changes to the time, location, and manner in which an employee works to better meet individual and business needs.”

— The Sloan Centre on Age and Work at Boston College.

The flexible working movement has always claimed that people with greater control over their schedules are more productive than those less. Increasingly, anecdotal evidence is backed up by rigorous proof that working flexibly boosts productivity and provides a clear and measurable benefit to both people employed and clients/customers.

The benefits are evident. These were summed up way back in 2011 in Microsoft’s ‘Work Without Walls’ white paper, which listed the top 10 benefits of working at home:

  1. Environmentally friendly (23%)
  2. More time with family (29%) 
  3. Less stressful environment (38%)
  4. Quieter atmosphere (43%)
  5. Eliminate long commute (44%)
  6. Fewer distractions (44%)
  7. More productive at work (45%)
  8. Avoid traffic (47%)
  9. Save commuting costs (55%)
  10. Work-life balance (60%)

When people are able to balance the demands of work with other aspects of their lives, further research indicates that:

  1. They suffer less sickness. A study of 19,000 people across nine different business sectors conducted by The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College found that stress and burnout were lower among people engaged in all types of workplace flexibility. Greater levels of flexibility were associated with better physical and mental health.
  2. They suffer less negative spillover (the process by which attitudes and behaviours carry from work to the family). This improved productivity and also improved the quality of personal and work life.
  3. Work/family balance improves. Schedule flexibility minimises work-family conflict, promotes work-family enrichment, and improves functioning and performance at work and home.
  4. They live longer and sleep better. People who work for managers with low work-family openness are more likely to have elevated cardiovascular disease risk and sleep almost half an hour a night less than people with managers with high levels of work-family openness.

When people are healthier, satisfied and more committed, flexibility drives productivity. Research from the Corporate Leadership Council (CLC), for example, found that for every 10% improvement in someone’s commitment, the level of effort increases by 6%. The research also revealed that highly committed people perform at a 20% higher level than those who are non-committed.

Commitment has a strong correlation with flexibility. In a Deloitte survey, people were asked whether their managers grant them enough flexibility to meet personal and/or family responsibilities. People who agreed scored 32% higher in commitment to the company than those who did not — which would give a 19% performance boost according to the findings of the CLC research.

The bottom line

“Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge.”

— Bill Gates

Technological integration has streamlined workflows and bolstered internal communications. As a result, even the most hesitant business leaders have greater leeway to permit flexible working. Aside from granting people the autonomy to work around their own schedules, technology gives managers the means to measure the productivity of their teams — allaying any fears about people exploiting the situation.

Ultimately, granting flexibility is a boon to business, while failing to do so can breed discontent and halt financial growth. When optional flexibility is prioritised as a cornerstone of business culture and strategy, both the workforce and the business bottom line stand to benefit.

At Impellam, our consistent Group-wide culture is to trust our entrepreneurial Virtuoso leaders. Whether our people choose to work flexibly or not, we ultimately trust them to make the right decisions, collaborate and deliver on their promises in order to drive our business’ competitive advantage. Read more about our Virtuoso culture here.

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