Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Flexible working – what is it and how to get it

Barely a week goes by without an article on the importance of flexible working.  Having recently returned from my maternity leave and reducing my working week to four days, I have taken more than a passing interest in the debate. What’s interesting is this discussion is no longer focused on those with caring responsibilities, today flexible working is a critical tool when it comes to engaging and retaining talent at all levels.

The concept has as many names as it does practical applications – agile working, smart working, activity-based working – and the reasons why people request it are just as varied. All employees have the right to request flexible working and the government have produced a handy guide to the formal process. 

But creating a flexible culture shouldn’t be about rules and guidelines, or just for people with children.  Employers need be able to trust their employees to manage their own workload and manage hours/days in the office accordingly.  And there’s a wealth of evidence that shows the positive impacts of doing just that.

In his book ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, the business author Daniel Pink discusses the importance of focusing on intrinsic rather than extrinsic employee motivation.  He refers to the psychological concept of Self-Determiniation Theory and its three core facets: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.  Creating an environment that nurtures these three things can have a significant effect on organisational effectiveness and engagement.  Flexible working is an example of Autonomy – giving an individual control of their time, team, task and technique.

The benefits to business and the economy are significant too, according the ONS more than 8 million people work fewer than 30 hours per week. The REC produced a report with the Flexible Work Commission that highlights how offering flexibility helps companies – especially small businesses – attract talent and over 70% of businesses reported flexible working having a net positive impact on retention rates and staff motivation.

So, with all the evidence pointing to the benefits of flexibility, how do you get it?  The key is to take a solutions-focused approach, e.g. pre-empting managerial concerns about managing your workload by showing how you will cover it and anticipate it working practically.

Asking for flexibility from a company you already work for is pretty straightforward but what about when you’re in the process for a new role?  If you are working with a recruiter then tell them at the earliest point in the process – they will usually know the client well and have a good steer on their approach to flexible working.

If you are working directly with a potential employer then I would recommend asking questions at interview that relate to culture and hours, these are questions that everyone should be asking anyway, as culture is ultimately what a successful match always comes down to. If flexibility, or lack of, is a key part in your decision making process then it is important to raise it before you get to the offer stage – a second interview or HR interview is often a suitable time to have the conversation. 

Most importantly, focus on making a great impression and making sure they really want to hire you. In our experience, for the right candidate, most companies will find a way of making it work.

Good luck!

Written by our Associate Director, Lauren Tarbit

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