Workers who are offered the option of flexible working are benefitting UK business, taking less leave and working at increased levels of productivity, according to research.
A study compared the productivity of 1,500 workers who set their own hours or working location against 500 who are not doing so.
Flexible workers said they felt they worked effectively for more of a typical working day than those working a traditional ‘nine-to-five’.
However, three-quarters of flexi workers say they’d be reluctant to leave their current place of work, if a new one didn’t allow the same flexibility.
Olivia Hill, chief HR officer at AAT, which commissioned the study, said: “Flexible working has a huge number of benefits for employees and employers alike.
“In this connected world, all many people need to work is a laptop and a stable internet connection, which can be found in many places other than the office environment.
“It seems employers are also becoming more likely to allow flexible hours as well as flexibility with location – assuming that as long as the job gets done, it doesn’t really matter when and where it happens – the most important thing is strong levels of productivity.”
The study also found one fifth of employees inquired about workplace flexibility as soon as their very first interview for the job.
And four in 10 respondents said the option of flexible working was offered company-wide, although 15 per cent said it applied only to them personally.
British workers are more likely to choose to set the hours they work – 47 per cent reported this – than choose the location they work from, which just one in five are flexible in.
Unsurprisingly, the main reason Brits give for wanting to work flexibly was to balance their home and family life with workplace needs.
Although 15 per cent believe they are simply not as productive in a traditional working environment – with 21 per cent ‘much more productive’ after moving to a flexible schedule.
A quarter of respondents say they work longer hours in their new flexi routine than they did when they were shackled to normal office hours.
In fact, flexi-workers think they put in an extra 6.7 hours each week than they did when they were at their desks in the office.
Half of flexible workers also say they can never see themselves returning to a more traditional work routine, and three quarters say it’s a key perk at their current job.
However, a tenth of respondents worry their colleagues think of them as work-shy for not being on hand in the office regularly.
And 13 per cent have concerns they may be passed over for promotions or other work responsibilities, as they’re out of sight and potentially out of mind.
While one in five believe they have colleagues who are ‘envious’ of the work/life balance they have managed to negotiate for themselves.
Olivia Hill added: “Its worrying that many flexible workers feel that their colleagues see them as work-shy, or feel that they may be passed over for promotions.
For this to change, flexible working has to become more accepted and commonplace in every work environment, according to the OnePoll study.
“Allowing flexible working helps organisations keep a diverse range of employees, because they are able to balance their work and other commitments in a way that works for them.
“Many employees, especially younger people, now prioritise having a good work-life balance when looking for a job, so organisations offering flexible working will have a better chance of attracting and retaining them.
”The UK works some of the longest hours compared to our European neighbours, however our productivity is lagging behind, flexible working results in not only happier but more productive employees.
“The business case for flexible working really does add up, but there will need to be a cultural shift for it to be embraced and imbedded more widely.”
CASE STUDY Gill’s story:
Gill Myers is one of those who decided to start working flexibly. She had returned to work as a lecturer at Tameside College in Greater Manchester, on a 0.8 full time equivalent (FTE) contract after having a baby.
She then start doing bookkeeping and accountancy consulting outside her normal work hours in her free time, first just on a small scalefor a small start-up company, but then after the freelancebookkeeping work kept growing was able to drop her hours to 0.6FTE.
Eventually when her son started school, she found that she could secure enough work for her accounting+bookkeeping business and was then able to resign from the college.
Now self-employed, Gill says she enjoys the freedom to choose her own hours and location where she works.
Gill says: “I’m self-employed so have total control over my hours and location. I mainly work from home but travel to clients’ premises when required and agreed.
I don’t feel that there are any downsides of working flexibly; I get to take my son to school every day so have contact with other parents in the playground.
I work from 9am – 3pm solidly and I am good at being focused because if I don’t get everything done then I don’t get an opportunity to finish off until 8pm when he’s in bed.
I use Slack and Skype to stay in daily contact with my biggest client so it’s like being in the office but just from home.
I can’t ever see myself returning to a more standard 9 to 5 work routine, I am much happier with my career progression now and feel that I have a flexible portfolio of work that I would never have had the opportunity to have if I’d have remained working the way I was previously.”