Flexible working is not an employee perk that enables women to balance work and life, nor is it a cost to organisations. Instead, flexible working is an essential part of any organisation looking to succeed and thrive in the current environment.
Women have had the right to apply to work flexibly for the last 15 years. The law changed in 2014 to give that right to all employees, recognising that it wasn’t only women who needed to juggle work with other responsibilities and interests.
“If you’re not in the workplace 9-5, five days a week, you’re not wholly committed”
But there’s still the perception in some organisations that if you’re not in the workplace from 9-5, five days a week, you’re not wholly committed. This traditional view has impacted on decisions made about female employees’ roles, progression and pay. The leader of a medium-sized company once told me that his ideal employee was a man with a young family and a mortgage. This once commonly-held belief, that having a family drives men to work harder whilst the very same thing distracts women from their work, is now being seriously challenged by a diverse working population that wants to explore alternative options.
Advances in technology
It is technology that has opened up many of these options. Today only a limited number of tasks require a permanent on-site presence. If an employer wants their employees to work at a set time and location, it’s often perceived as a control or a (dis)trust issue rather than a business effectiveness one. And that can have a negative impact on business performance.
“The demand for flexible working is growing”
And there’s no denying that the demand for flexible working is growing. Not simply because it’s seen as personally beneficial by some employees, but because many employers now also understand that it’s good for business.
Working where and when we’re most productive
To get the most from flexible working, employers need to give people the freedom to work where and when they’re most productive. At a time when UK productivity figures are flatlining, why wouldn’t we want to encourage employees to think about how they can be more productive and take responsibility for it?
“Improving trust within organisations significantly improves performance”
The importance of trust
However, by far the greatest benefit of flexible working relates to trust. Research has repeatedly shown that that improving trust within organisations significantly improves performance; it enables agility, innovation and collaboration. But like productivity, trust levels in UK businesses are low. Leaders can’t force employees to trust them, but telling people that they’re trusted enough to decide for themselves where and when they work is a significant step towards them returning that trust.
Let’s act now
It really is time to review the way we think about work. Let’s start leading organisations in a way that increases productivity and performance. Flexibility is not a female issue; it’s simply good for business.