Vision Scotland: Is flexible working key to better productivity?

If you ask a member of the adult Scottish population to identify the biggest attraction of a job, apparently 95 per cent will say the salary '“ and also a favourable work-life balance. For almost one-third of workers, according to a recent YouGov poll, work-life balance is more important than salary.

Team shot of Family Friendly Working Scotland.
Team shot of Family Friendly Working Scotland.

When businesses introduce flexible working schemes for employees, many see a host of benefits, including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, better staff retention, a wider talent pool and greater staff loyalty.

In addition, another YouGov survey shows that of the Scots who already work flexibly, more than three-quarters believe they are more productive and 77 per cent “go the extra mile” for their employer as a result. Staff also say they are happier and less stressed in both the work place and at home.

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Yet, while the statistics seem clear, there are still many businesses that see obstacles to introducing more flexible and family friendly working patterns in the workplace.

They state concerns such as being too small for flexible working hours, not having enough staff to cover shifts, being unable to track staff while they work from home and the practice being a potential administration headache.

Of course, as a nation, we would like to see improved economic productivity and prosperity, especially in these uncertain times. The Scottish Government agrees and it funds and supports a Glasgow-based organisation called Family Friendly Working Scotland (FFWS). The charity offers practical support and advice to employers with the aim of creating a working culture change in Scotland.

Nikki Slowey, FFWS co-director, says: “While there are many employers in Scotland that have a great approach to flexible working, there are others that need to be persuaded of the benefits.

“We see our goal a is to help showing employers discover more effective and productive ways of working that meet both business and employee needs.

“We know from our recent YouGov poll that people value their work-life balance as much as their salary. We also have evidence to show that employers that support employee wellbeing tap in to psyche of their people. This means that employers will attract and retain the best talent and get the very best from them, driving up productivity in the process.”

Several big name companies have already been recognised for their flexible and family friendly working culture. Barclays, FanDuel and Virgin Money have won FFWS top employer awards in previous years.

In the SME employer category, Pursuit Marketing, a consultancy based in Glasgow, also won a 2018 Top Employer Award.

Since its inception in 2011, Pursuit Marketing has proactively supported flexible working, such as creating term-time working roles; introducing an online tool for staff to notify changes to working hours and, in September 2016, launching a four-day week.

Analysis has shown that the company’s employees are as productive as those working traditional full-time hours – if not more so.

Lorraine Gray, Pursuit Marketing’s group operations director, says: “In 2016, we were facing some challenges with an unsettled post-election market, budget cuts and new competitors.

“At that time, we couldn’t match big London salaries, but we knew we could offer something different.

“We introduced a four-day week with full pay alongside a range of other wellbeing activities, such as free lunchtime fitness classes.

“Our productivity – based on clearly defined monthly KPIs [key performance indicators] – increased by 37 per cent at first and has now settled at 30 per cent. Our staff love it, and they are our best ambassadors.”

The company has reaped other benefits. Gray explains: “We don’t need to spend money on recruitment now. We get around four speculative applications every day via our website.

“When you consider that we’ve taken on about 90 people in the last two years, and it used to cost around £4,000 to recruit each telemarketer, we’ve saved a considerable sum.”

Another company, which won Best (Small) Employer and Best for Innovation at the FFWS Awards 2018, is Senshi Digita, now known as the Tourism Marketing Agency. The tourism marketing agency, Also based in Glasgow, the company has seen increase of 50 per cent in productivity since it started trialling flexible working patterns in 2016.

Staff work five days a week but with flexible start and finish times. The team can arrive any time between 8am and 11am and leave seven hours later.

Director Chris Torres says: “Being flexible for the team’s needs makes them happier and more productive. Someone happy in their job will perform better and have a better work-life balance.”

Interestingly, energy provider Centrica found that when it focused on staff who are also home carers by offering paid care leave and peer-to-peer support, the company saved money.

More than 1,100 of its employees are registered with Centrica’s Carers’ Network, which allows staff up to one month of paid care leave, on top of their annual entitlement.

Feedback from line managers shows that Centrica workers who have used care leave are more productive and avoid taking time off sick.

In business terms, latest figures reveal Centrica has saved £1.8 million a year by providing paid leave and peer support through reduced unplanned absences plus cumulative savings of £1.3 million in increased staff retention.

Nikki Slowey at FFWS sums up: “We have seen that many employers already have a great approach to flexible
working – and are reaping the benefits.

“Their employees also benefit from a better work-life balance, they’re happier, less stressed and – crucially – they’re more motivated and productive at work.

“It would be great to see more companies embracing a more flexible and family-friendly pattern to working culture.”

This article appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Vision Scotland. A digital edition can be accessed here.