Why flexible working is important for employees

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Lizzie Buxton

12th November 2018

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Flexible working is a popular concept. Powwownow, for example, found that three quarters of UK employees feel that the option of working flexibly would make a job more attractive. But do businesses do enough to cater for this desire?

Not according to recruitment site Timewise, which analysed 3.5 million job adverts and found that just 6.2% of roles had a salary above £20,000 and offered a degree of flexibility.

Employers, it seems, need to be convinced further of the virtues of all types of flexible working – whether that is working from home, varied hours or job splits and shares. Perhaps it would help if they understood the attraction to employees. In this post – and an accompanying infographic – we’ll explore why the idea of flexible working is so popular among employees.

Too many workplaces do too little to support mothers before and after pregnancy. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, for example, found that 77% of women reported a negative or discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave or their return to work. About one in ten women even felt forced to leave a job. These stats hint at practice that is actually illegal – and should clearly be stamped out – and also that the ‘back to work’ arrangements for women are insufficient. True flexible working should allow mums and dads to be able to fit in their childcare commitments around their work and not be made to feel bad – or frozen out of roles in which their talents could make a difference. Freeing up parents to be able to manage their work life alongside their childcare commitments is an important part of flexible working – and an employer’s duty of care to its staff.

It allows employees to have their own individual work-life balance

While childcare is a key factor, it’s important not to focus solely on this. Anna Whitehouse, the woman behind the Mother Pukka website, has highlighted the importance of flexible working to help people have a healthy work-life balance, regardless of what else they are balancing. She wrote: “The words ‘flexible working’ have been tacked to parents. Life is messy and whether you’re a (single) mum, dad, carer or someone who just needs Friday mornings off to slap some paint on a canvas, flexible working is about getting the best from each individual – ‘individual’ here is key. The one rule for everyone has to go – salaries and skills aren’t the same across the board, and how you work shouldn’t be either.” Just one third of UK workers are happy with their current work-life balance – flexible working can address that.

It can remove geographical barriers

Sometimes geography can really get in the way of the perfect match between an employee and employer. Relocating for work is a huge commitment – and isn’t always an insurmountable issue if someone is reluctant to move house or uproot their family. A study by YouGov, for example, asked workers if they would be willing to relocate if their job moved to a new location. For most cities, a majority of workers said they would be unwilling to move – with 64 per cent saying they wouldn’t go to London if there job move there, for example. Separate research from the Resolution Foundation found that the number of people who uproot themselves and move to another region for work has fallen by a quarter since 2000. Yet, flexible working can easily reduce the need for such upheaval – allowing employees to working effectively and efficiently without the need to be in the office. It’s a challenge for HR departments – but removing such geographical barriers can make companies much more attractive to candidates.

It can reduce the hassle of the commute commuting

Many workers detest their morning commute. Whether it’s traffic jams, the perils of public transport, the cost or just the hassle of rushing out of bed – the process of getting to work often starts people off in a bad mood before they even begin their work. The Office for National Statistics found that: “Holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.” The Evening Standard found that 45 per cent of Brits put a short commute as their top priority when moving – and 47 per cent say they would be unwilling to work anywhere that was too far away. Meanwhile, the Washington Post points out that a 26 minute daily commute (the average for a US worker) means that someone waste 9 days a year commuting to and from work. Whether it’s flexible working arrangements that allow people to stagger their hours to miss the worst of the traffic or outright working from home, many employees would jump at the chance to avoid their current commute. It’s not just about hassle either – with the average UK employee spending £146 a month on getting to and from work according to Total Jobs, there’s a compelling cost case for ditching the commute too.

It can help workers to be more productive

It’s easy to think that flexibility is all about giving benefits to employees – but could there be a mutual benefit for companies themselves too? The fact is that some workers feel that they can be more productive outside of the office – free from the drag of interruptions, distractions and unnecessary meetings. Canada Life Group Insurance found that 77 per cent of employees believe that flexible working actually helps them to be more productive – while a separate study from HSBC found that 89 per cent of workers felt flexible working was the biggest motivator for their productivity levels. It also found that people working from home were less likely to be stressed, which helps their productivity and wellbeing. The right employees actually want to get more work done and, for them, flexible working makes sense.

It allows them to use their techHR tech

Employees love their own devices – and probably moan about their work equipment – so why not let them stick to the kit they know and love? Insight highlighted how more than half of all workers feel they are more productive when they use their own devices – and that Samsung said that using personal devices for work activities saves employees 58 minutes a day, leading to a 34 per cent increase in productivity. Many businesses have harnessed the ‘bring your own device’ trend in their workplaces – either doing this, or letting people work from home using their own equipment – can be an attractive proposition for all involved.

It can help them to be greener

We only have one planet – and we’re all coming to accept this fact and the need to do all we can to protect it. For some people, working from home is an attractive proposition for ‘green’ reasons. Many worry about the carbon footprint of the daily commute. Research from Imperial College London found that the overall rush-hour carbon output in the UK is 32.7 million tonnes per year – equivalent to that involved in flying 16,750,264 people from London to Sydney. The website GreenBiz states that – as a rule of thumb – an employee can shrink their carbon footprint if they usually drive more than four miles to work in the morning, take the bus for more than seven miles or embark on a 16-mile rail journey. The impact of a commute does, however, have to be balanced against the energy costs associated with heating a home. GreenBiz notes, for example, that heating a whole house for an hour would wipe out the carbon savings from removing a commute. However, a worker could – one average – heat one room for seven hours before they match their commuting carbon footprint. This all suggests that the green benefits of flexible working are definitely increased during warmer – and lighter – months.

Whether it’s helping their work-life balance, removing geographical barriers, cutting the unpopular commute, increasing productivity, using their own technology or being a bit greener, there are many clear reasons for employees liking the idea of flexible working. If you understand all of this as an employer, then it might well make sense to offer this to your employees and encourage you to consider how to implement flexible working in your organisation.

For a bite-sized view of flexible working, you can read our latest infographic here:

View Bitesize Summary

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