How flexible are you? No, I’m not asking about your yoga habits. Rather, about your approach to flexible working.
By now, the workplace is familiar with the value of flexible working options, whether they be in otherwise permanent positions, or as independent workers who make their own careers flexible on their terms.
But, while employers are moving forward, recruiters, too, now have a responsibility to get in on the action.
The importance is underscored by recent research. Working Families, an organisation supporting work-life balance, found higher-earning parents, those who bank more than £70,000 a year, are 47% more likely to work flexibly than those earning between £10,000 and £40,000.
As the group’s chief executive pointed out: “We know flexible working makes business sense across the salary spectrum, so why should only the people who earn the most be able to reap the rewards?”
And I agree. It’s completely unreasonable for employers not to offer staff flexible working options, regardless of what level they are at.
Flexibility is, of course, good for workers. Most of us spend most of our life in work, getting in the way of our hobbies, passions, past-times and families. Flexibility can give them back control of their own life.
But flexibility is not a one-way street – it can also be an employer’s best friend. Benefits for employers offering flexible working include increased productivity, employee well-being and satisfaction, and talent retention and attraction, according to The Work Foundation’s Working Anywhere report.
In fact, flexible working is one of the best employee retention tactics out there. Money isn’t everything – while most people say salary is the driving factor behind them working, a third of employees surveyed for Investors In People’s Job Exodus Trends report said they would prefer a more flexible approach to working hours over a 3% pay rise.
It is important to realise that people don’t just change jobs – when they move between employers, what they are really doing is changing conditions.
Smart employers recognise this, and adapt. By the old-fashioned logic, flexible working requests, which every UK employee now has the right to make, are a burden, representing both a logistical challenge and a personal diplomatic nightmare.
But modern bosses who care about a happy ship embrace the opportunities flexibility presents, like enriching the workplace with multiple viewpoints, plurality of strengths.
And yet, we are not finished.
The best way to introduce change, to ensure that organisations are hiring for the new world of flexibility, is for change to come from the top. Chief executives and leaders must be convinced of the benefits of human resources other than salary, and elect to make the strategic decision to introduce a flexible approach to their workforce management.
This is not happening sufficiently. According to Timewise, which campaigns for flexible working, only 6.2% of job ads placed last year actually referred to flexible working.
Today, recruitment agencies typically just act on a mandate delivered by their client, the hiring company. If that mandate does not make provision for flexibility, flexibility may never come about, at least until the hired employee lodges a later request.
But if recruitment agencies were more proactive to recommend this avenue, clients would be more inclined to put flexibility on to the agenda. Agencies could become be the new frontline in the fight to ensure a flexible future.
That wouldn’t just be good news for companies or their staff. Such a relationship could reshape the relationship dynamic between agencies and their clients with greater value in mind.
Agencies, as well as online job platforms, should start by routinely suggesting flexible provisions in job ads wherever it is possible. But a more compelling service would be to extend the client offer to a consulting project. Where agencies can effectively speak to the challenges and the possibilities of the flexible demand, they can be called upon to come in and help clients reshape their people strategy around a changing world.
Today, we are seeing disconnects all over the industry. For instance, the Work Foundation report from last year (2016) revealed that, by 2017, more than half of all organisations in the UK are likely to have adopted flexible working. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at the job ads, and it seems that the better-paid workers are benefiting most.
We can’t just leave to it employers and employees. It is time all hiring bodies – recruitment agencies and on-demand staffing platforms alike – leveraged their own unique position to bring about the future that will be better for all.