Favouring flexibility over the traditional 9 to 5

Once considered a rare and enviable luxury, flexible working is increasingly seen as a right rather than a privilege, particularly among an emerging generation of millennial employees for whom logging on anytime, anywhere, is second nature.

Administrate boss John Peebles introduced a four-day working week at the Edinburgh software company. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Administrate boss John Peebles introduced a four-day working week at the Edinburgh software company. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

Moving from trend to part of the establishment with the right to request flexible working now enshrined in law, the benefits of maximising employees’ strengths while acknowledging their individual needs are becoming more evident to employers, who can boost appeal to potential staff and retain those already on its books with an alternative to the 9-to-5.

However, the availability of flexible working is still failing to keep pace with its desirability among workers.

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Survey results published yesterday reveal that in Scotland, flexibility was seen as by far the most desirable workplace perk by about 60 per cent of respondents, with seasonal bonuses trailing in second place at 40 per cent. The survey of 1,000 professionals also revealed that nearly three quarters of Scots said they receive no workplace perks at all.

Interestingly, trendier innovations such as nap or games rooms fell to the bottom of priorities at about 6 per cent.

Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of independent job site CV-Library, which published the research, noted that workers north of the Border are favouring more practical benefits like flexibility and “are shying away from the more whimsical perks that have become somewhat of a fad in recent years”.

Additionally, employers in Scotland who have shaken up the conventional working week are adamant that if anything, productivity has increased rather than fallen by the wayside.

John Peebles, chief executive of Edinburgh-based software firm Administrate, introduced the concept of a four-day week at the business, having grown up in China and seen first-hand that when the country reduced its working hours, productivity was not hampered. However, he did admit some trepidation at putting the idea on the table, even though “every study ever has shown that when you reduce working hours, your productivity goes up”.

Increased output was echoed by Glasgow-based agency Senshi Digital, with director Chris Torres saying last year that it had been more focused since introducing a six-hour day. “You can’t really concentrate for eight hours a day in my opinion, especially in a creative industry,” he said.

Yet not all sectors are so forward-thinking. Another recent study found that parents with low earnings were less likely to be in jobs offering flexible hours.

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According to the report by Family Friendly Working Scotland (FFWS), adults in the most affluent income bracket were about a quarter more likely to have flexible hours than those in the bottom 20 per cent.

Nikki Slowey, programme director at FFWS, praised an “increasing recognition of the value of family friendly and flexible ways of working to employers, families and communities in Scotland”, but also pointed out that almost a third of low-income parents said they had missed out on important home or family activities due to work.

“The impact of work on family life, relationships and wellbeing, along with the cost of childcare, leads to many reducing or giving up work entirely,” she warned.

Flexibility remaining most prevalent in higher-earning roles was echoed by findings from flexible working group Timewise, which said the number of part-time staff on salaries over £40,000 has increased by 5.7 per cent in the past year.

Timewise co-founder Karen Mattison said: “The dramatic increase in job shares offers us a glimpse into how jobs will be designed in the future.

“All it takes is an open-minded employer who is prepared to try something new in a bid to hire or keep the best people, and an innovative solution is born.”

Noting the benefits to employers was Kate Palmer, head of advisory at Peninsula Scotland, a professional services firm. She said that while the right to request flexible working does not guarantee approval, employers can only say no where one of eight business reasons apply, and should handle a request “in a positive, helpful manner… employers open to these changes are likely to create a more engaged, loyal workforce.”

More outspoken was Mark McDonald, Minister for Children and Early Years, who spoke for many when commenting on the FFWS findings that while flexible working options are not so easy in all sectors, “I would encourage all employers to adopt the starting position that any job can be done flexibly unless there is a compelling reason why it can’t”.