By Rachel King, Marketing Director at Breathe
Flexible working is still divisive.
You’re either someone who understands its benefits, potential and importance, or you’re someone who geers at working from home, unable to trust people will actually work if they don’t have someone watching over them.
Indeed, studies show how part-time working mothers often end up working more unpaid overtime, yet negative perceptions around it remain. Studies revealed a 1/3 of British workers believe those who work flexibly create more work for others or believe their career will suffer.
The ONS reveals 88.7 per cent of adults who aren’t in work due to looking after family or the home are women — this is largely due to wanting a certain lifestyle or not being able to afford childcare and return to work. And those who do return to work from maternity leave might want to shift to part-time hours to ensure they get enough time with their family.
But it’s not always easy to find part-time roles or companies who offer flexible working. This must change. There is a pool of untapped, highly experienced talent on the market who don’t feel their needs are being met with certain firms, so are put off re-joining the workplace. It’s up to businesses to ensure they are providing these individuals with the right environment for them to thrive in, whether that is offering flexible working to all, more part-time contracts, or simply educating managers and senior staff of these benefits to shake off any outdated stigmas.
The British business landscape is at an inflection point with increasing Brexit uncertainty, a skill crisis and a productivity problem. Something’s got to give. In many cases, part-timers are an untapped resource of highly experienced professionals, who know what they want. There are many people, not only women, who may have taken an extended period of leave and part-time work offers a way back into employment that can be built around their needs and lifestyle — with benefits to both the individual and a business.
The evidence is clear. Many studies outline the clear benefits of flexible working, such as a study by Ernst & Young which found that women in flexible work were the most productive members of the workforce. And according to the research, they wasted only 11% of their time, compared to an average of 14.5% by the rest of the workforce.
Time is a valuable commodity and when you have less of it, you make more of it. Take Germany for example, staff leave early on a Thursday afternoon and get as much done as a UK employee who worked all the way up until Friday afternoon. This means they are producing the same amount of work as their UK peers every 3.5-4 days.
According to Parkinson’s Law, working longer hours doesn’t increase efficiency. In addition, overworking can lead to a lot more sick days, and as a result, less happy employees. In fact, Breathe’s own sick report revealed that employees pulling a sickie is costing small businesses £900 million and one in seven employees admitted to feigning illness. In the case of part-time and flexible workers, they have greater control over their working and home lives. They do not need to take time off for appointments and have the flexibility to fit in their commitments to a young family for example. This greater sense of control and responsibility can increase commitment and loyalty which is often reflected in levels of productivity and in turn, happier staff.
Companies must be more aware of the benefits that part-time workers can have on their business and offer up more flexible and part-time working. Firstly, having an open approach to the recruitment of those that are looking for slightly different working patterns means that the talent market will open up, giving you far more choice and diversity when it comes to finding someone who fits in with the job role and the company as a whole.
Secondly, it has the potential to impact businesses from startup size through to big businesses. Take small businesses. They might not have the budget or need a full-time member of the team, so having a part-time employee might make more sense. In addition, customer or client needs are not always 9-5 and flexible workers can allow you to be much more agile. Having part-time employees can also help you manage demand during busier times and also help other workers that may be overstretched — helping to increase both employee engagement and retention.
Interestingly, although many reports show its increasing demand from employees and clear gains, recent studies have shown the number of people using flexible working arrangements has flatlined since 2010, despite the right to request flexibility being extended to all employees since 2014.
It’s crucial that businesses are open to collaboration with their employees on their working patterns and offering up part-time work enables this. The fastest path to productivity gains lies within your workforce and if you are catering to all and what works best for them, you will also reap the rewards as an organisation. It makes business sense to do so, so the question is, if you’re not already doing this, why not?
About the author
Rachel King, Marketing Director at Breathe
With over 25 years’ experience in marketing, Rachel is a specialist in the field. Rachel spent 16 years at RSA/MORE TH>N, where she worked on a variety of roles including customer retention, customer comms, media buying and above and below the line creative agency management. Rachel was on the original MORE TH>N product launch team back in 2001. Now the Marketing Director of Breathe, she leads on business and marketing strategy and is an integral part of the team driving Breathe forward from a 3 person start-up 7 years ago, to a 31 people team and a leading HR software company.