Comment: Embed flexible working to boost output

There is an undercurrent that seems to unfairly stigmatise those who take advantage of flexible working, says Anderson. Picture: contributed
There is an undercurrent that seems to unfairly stigmatise those who take advantage of flexible working, says Anderson. Picture: contributed
Share this article
0
Have your say

The productivity of the UK workforce in comparison with our European counterparts, and others in the global economy, will come into sharp focus over the coming months and years.

As we potentially embark on a brave new world of negotiating our own trade deals and promoting our workforce as leaders in a range of industries, we will need to make a strong case for our productivity to win those lucrative contracts.

Despite the questions being raised around recent OECD statistics – suggesting that French economists adjust for various elements including holidays, sick leave and the illegal economy – output per hour is still 20 per cent higher in France and 26 per cent higher in the US.

As we all know, cracking the whip and chaining people to their desks is not going to solve the problem. Whereas previous generations may have put up with a challenge in the workplace, modern employees will raise an issue and if it’s not solved to their satisfaction they will leave.

Far from an oppressive approach, it seems most employers have adopted flexible working to help solve the problems of productivity. A recent study by Deloitte indicated 78 per cent of UK employees were offered flexible working as a benefit at their current or most recent employer.

While this is a significant proportion of employers, the question now is whether the concept is being fully embraced by companies or is it simply a hiring necessity driven by culture? As with all workplace innovations, if it is not fully integrated into the fabric of the company it will never truly reap the benefits.

It’s clear there are employers who have adopted flexible working but do not really embody the policy. A Stanford University flexible working study highlights a 13.5 per cent rise in productivity from home working employees and a more than 90 per cent rise in engagement. This resulted in fewer sick days and greater job satisfaction.

While these are great statistics, there is an undercurrent that seems to unfairly stigmatise those who take advantage of flexible working. Almost a third of respondents from the same Deloitte survey felt, as flexible workers, they were regarded as less important and over a quarter believed they missed out on promotions.

Ironically, it seems the key to success in adopting a flexible approach and reaping the benefits of a more productive workforce is to let go and trust your employees. It requires thinking differently about productivity – making it less about the time in attendance and more about the outputs.

If you provide the right infrastructure and the right metrics, discarding the age-old notion that if you can see an employee they must be working, perhaps your business will benefit from an increase in productivity and our country will match, even surpass, our global peers.

- Ewan Anderson, associate marketing director, Eden Scott