Flexible working…two years on. Will the UK be adopting the six-hour working day in the near future?

Research shows that flexible working improves productivity - and I would agree. As a working mum of two boys, I can categorically state that my activity is on par with, if not higher than, when I worked full time.

More than two years have passed since employees with six months’ continuous service had the legal right to request flexible working. And thanks to advancements in technology, it’s now easier than ever for staff to cut free from 9 to 5 convention. But, despite forward-thinkers like Facebook and BA pioneering fluid working practices, many businesses still demand a traditional working day. Similarly, the perception remains that certain roles can’t be done on a part-time, flexible basis and that home workers devote more time to laundry and Lorraine than their work-issued laptops.

Done well, flexible working can lead to increased engagement and efficiency. So while some working parents log off to make the school run, they’re often back online that evening to get the job done. Likewise, many part-time workers fit four days’ work into three, or work on their ‘days off’ to deliver pressing projects. To meet the demands of my industry and provide excellent customer service, I choose to be accessible 24/7. Personally, I don’t mind an around-the-clock approach, but it led me to ask whether this is effective flexible working? It also begs the question of what’s next for employees in the search for an ideal work/life balance and whether companies could be doing even more to show their flexible side. 

After all, the business benefits of a flexible working culture speak for themselves…

Higher profit margin
Taking a more agile approach to the organisation of work has a direct and positive effect on profit. Recruitment costs are reduced through boosted retention rates and better quality hiring. In fact, a recent survey by Vodafone - titled ‘Flexible: Friend or Foe?’ - revealed that flexible working not only benefits the bottom line, but can also work wonders for customer perception and corporate character ratings. Fifty-eight per cent of the global employers and employees surveyed believe flexible working policies have a positive impact on their organisation’s reputation, providing customers with another reason to buy.  

Talent attraction
With flexible working being top of many applicants’ wish lists, enlightened companies can often cherry pick candidates from a wider, more engaged talent pool. It’s a fact that jobs offering flexible working receive twice the responses of those that don’t. As recruiters, it’s our role to ask the right questions about flexible working options in order to open up the market and provide our customers with the best talent. Companies also need to examine whether positions genuinely require a full-time employee or whether a job share scenario could deliver a stronger candidate (or two). Thinking outside the full-time box could mean gaining the same level of output from a dedicated, motivated part-time employee for a reduced salary.  

Strong employee engagement
As humans, we’re born with a reciprocity tendency - if someone does us a good turn, we’re wired to return the favour. As I can truly testify, if a team member is trusted to work flexibly, they will repay the business three times over in terms of loyalty, enthusiasm and commitment to their role. And it’s not just working parents following the flexible trend. At Badenoch & Clark, my colleagues with no childcare responsibility also request flexibility to pursue language courses, charity work and sports. Currently, 60% of my team work part-time hours and everyone takes the opportunity to adjust their hours to suit their personal lives. 

What’s next?
Since February 2015, the publicly-funded Svartedalens nursing home in Gothenburg, Sweden has let 80 nurses work six-hour shifts while still receiving their eight-hour salaries. Meanwhile, 80 staffers at another nursing home have worked their standard hours. The result? So far, sick leave at Svartedalens is half the average absenteeism rate in Gothenburg city, the nurses are happier and the care is better, according to the lead consultant on the project, Bengt Lorensson. 

So could a six-hour working day deliver the same benefits for UK  businesess? Without doubt, flexible working is here to stay. But to reap mutual gains, businesses must stretch further than granting employees permission to work from home one day a week. A truly flexible, no-questions-asked approach needs to be embedded within a company’s wider culture. 

Trust is the real key here – and a willingness to embrace the bigger picture. If an employee exceeds expectations, delivers on time and works to an excellent standard, does it matter if they collect their dry cleaning during core hours? By trusting your employees to manage their own time, leading them effectively and focusing on outcomes and deliverables, you will foster a workforce that is committed, happy, productive and positively contributing to your bottom line. 

By Louise Sorrell, Business Manager - HR



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  • Louise Sorrell's gravatar

    Sounds like a great organisation that you work for, Drey. They appear to have created a very strong unique selling point for themselves, allowing them to compete again the much larger organisations in attracting the top talent. Some companies often fall into the trap of throwing extra money at candidates, however often by listening and understanding the candidate's motivations, they will find that by offering a little flexibility they can attract the top talent and not have to spend a penny more!

    13/10/2016 19:35
  • Drey Francis's gravatar

    I agree with everything you say Louise. We employ most of our engineers and data entry colleagues in a flexible manner. This way we have been able to attract staff that previously would have gone to work for much bigger organisations. Allowing people to be truly flexible means that when we do have a major deadline to meet everybody pulls together to ensure we get over the line. It has definitely meant we have a much more cohesive group than any other organisation I have worked in. There is a massive cost savings too as it means we don't need extra desk space which is a very good thing given the price of office space in London.

    12/10/2016 14:00
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