Nikki Slowey: Why flexible working could be worth embracing

Too few jobs are advertised as offering flexibility and this has consequences for workers and workplaces, our society and economy. Picture: Catherine Yeulet
Too few jobs are advertised as offering flexibility and this has consequences for workers and workplaces, our society and economy. Picture: Catherine Yeulet
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Employee expectations and changing workplace demographics mean different opportunities are out there, says Nikki Slowey

‘Hello! Is there anybody out there” an army of workers are currently yelling into the void that is the flexible job market.

Flexible working is becoming a reality for more workers and while not quite the norm there is an appetite for change brought about by employee expectations, changing workplace demographics and a realisation by employers that flexibility is remarkably good for business. The Scottish Top Employers for Working Families Awards run by Family Friendly Working Scotland show us that more and more organisations offer flexible or agile working for existing employees.

Yet there is a real lag is when it comes to flexible recruitment - too few jobs are advertised as offering flexibility and this has consequences for workers and workplaces, our society and economy. However if we were to reverse this and the starting point was flexibility by default employers and workers would both benefit.

The first annual index tracking the UK’s ‘flexible hiring’ practice was published by the organisation Timewise last year, revealing that only 6% of job ads offer flexible working, while almost half of employees want it.

Research, funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, revealed that unlocking a higher volume of quality jobs to flexible or part time hours could tackle underemployment, and also help businesses to attract the best talent. Flexible hiring could improve business performance and living standards.

The report suggests:

• 1.9 million people could benefit from a quality flexible job and have the necessary qualifications, of whom 202,300 are in poverty;

• Demand for flexible jobs (47 per cent across all salary levels) is far in excess of supply.

There is a huge talent pool out there which is not being tapped into, simply because not enough jobs are being advertised flexibly.

This not just an issue for parents and carers. Young people entering the job market today have different expectations about how they will balance work and home life. They expect a degree of flexibility. Employers keen to recruit and retain millennials in their workforce to fill the talent pipeline will need to consider how they meet these expectations.

Without a flexible job market a bottleneck is being created, with employees becoming ‘stuck’ in their current flexible jobs. They may even trade down to get flexibility. The Working Families ‘Modern Families Index’ research highlighted that young fathers in particular were willing to take a pay cut for a better work life balance and were most likely to feel resentful towards their employer.

Many people are simply locked out the labour market altogether as they cannot find a role that offers them the flexibility they need to balance caring responsibilities. Working Families ‘Off Balance’ survey found that nine out of ten parents of disabled children not currently working, would like to be.

So businesses are losing out through the under-utilisation of skills, and the loss of valuable employees.

New part-time or flexible job vacancies are necessary to enable workless people in low-income households to enter the jobs market on a flexible basis, and for people in low-paid part-time work to progress to new jobs with better pay while retaining their flexibility.

One of the main business benefits of being a flexible employer is improved recruitment. Flexibility also improves retention and reduces absenteeism. Other business benefits include increased employee engagement and motivation along with increased productivity. When it comes to building the business case for embedded agile working there’s so much information out there it can be hard to know where to start. Working Families have recently produced an on online, step-by-step guide to help employers.

We would urge employers to begin using the ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ strapline and logo, which was developed by Working Families, the TUC, CBI and other leading business organisations. Using ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ logo as part of job adverts, signals in an effective way that for this job there is the option for flexible working.

Many progressive organisations are embracing flexible working and it would be transformational for workers and business alike if more job adverts included these five words. Timewise research indicates that half of people wouldn’t ask about flexible working of it is not mentioned in the job advert. Using ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ would increase the quality and quantity of applicants and potentially solve problems for organisations that experience skills shortages.

Flexible hiring will help create a fair, balanced and productive workforce for Scotland.

For more information on ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ or for information on any aspect of family friendly working please visit http://familyfriendlyworkingscotland.org.uk/

• Nikki Slowey, Programme Director, Family Friendly Working Scotland

• Family Friendly Working Scotland (FFWS) was established in 2014 and supports and promotes the development of family friendly workplaces in Scotland. FFWS is a partnership between Working Families, Parenting Across Scotland, Fathers Network Scotland and the Scottish Government. FFWS is funded and supported by the Scottish Government.