2nd March 2016
Almost one in four UK workers are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for more flexible working hours as pressure builds on employers to live up to employees’ expectations.
The latest report from Scottish Widows’ think tank, the Centre for the Modern Family, revealed that although employers are positive about introducing flexible working policies – with two thirds (65%) acknowledging that they increase productivity and wellbeing in the workforce, many are failing to live up to the expectations of employees, as more than one in five (21%) workers without children think parents receive better support when it comes to flexible working arrangements.
Whilst the study of 2,000 adults and 500 businesses found that almost a third (32%) of employees with children felt their employer provided equal support for all, only 20% without children agreed, and a similar proportion (21%) of those without children claimed that parents received better support.
The findings showed employers’ responses reflected this perception, with more than half (51%) offering flexibility for mothers with young children. However, far fewer are supportive of fathers with young children (35%), older workers (26%) and other employees (34%) who may have additional responsibilities such as elderly or unwell relatives to care for, charity and volunteering responsibilities, or a desire to attend additional training or classes outside of work.
While businesses appear to be taking steps towards meeting the needs of parents in the workplace, varying barriers still exist when it comes to extending those policies to support employees more widely.
Although evidence suggests that participation in additional training outside the workplace has a positive impact on employees’ happiness, more than a third (35%) of employers worry that they can’t afford to go beyond what is legally required when it comes to flexible working.
The study found that medium-sized businesses struggle the most – with almost a quarter (23%) saying they do what is legally required of them in terms of flexibility for families, but not any more than this for other employees.
Almost three quarters of medium-sized businesses (72%) would never consider offering full-time working from home, compared to half (51%) of micro and two-fifths (40%) of enterprise businesses. Over half (52%) of medium-sized employers said this would be logistically too difficult to implement, whilst over a third (35%) worry it would impact negatively on the business.
Half of medium businesses also said they would not consider offering part-time working from home, compared with 16% of enterprise and 22% of large businesses for the same reasons.
Despite a positive view from the majority of businesses (66%) – in particular large businesses (72%) and enterprises (77%) – that providing flexible working options enables them to attract and retain valuable employees, there is still a gap to fill between intention and action.
Almost a fifth of businesses (17%) have called for clearer information around the business benefits of flexible working – rising to a quarter (24%) in large businesses. Almost a third of employers (31%) place the onus on employees – saying they would be encouraged to reconsider their decisions if employees would consider taking cuts in return for more flexible working hours.
However, employees feel it is the employer’s responsibility to offer solutions, and many are keen to see changes in the workplace. A quarter (24%) of employees think employers should offer flexible shift patterns, and almost a quarter (23%) would be willing to be paid less in return for working fewer hours if this were an option.
Anita Frew, chair of the Centre for the Modern Family, says: “Although employers have taken promising steps towards offering more flexible working hours, there is still work to be done to ensure these policies are being rolled out to all employees.
“Our economy depends on a skilled and motivated workforce that functions productively – and our best hope of achieving this is through encouraging employers to adapt to the evolving needs of the workforce.
“Targeted support is essential to help employers understand the benefits for their business, but practical support is crucial in order to navigate the complex challenges around the implementation of more flexible initiatives and practices.”
Sir Cary Cooper, The 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School and President of the CIPD, says: “Flexible working is no longer something to be viewed as reserved for working parents, but something that will help increase the wellbeing of all employees.
“Finding ways to open these opportunities more widely – to those with other commitments such as caring for a family member, attending a training course or regularly playing for a sports team – will go a long way towards retaining top talent. Not only that, but there is evidence to support how working compressed hours can actually make people work better and more efficiently, so there is a business case for making these changes.”