We didn’t need Dolly Parton to tell us that the classic nine-to-five office routine can be a draining experience. Developed at a time when only one member of a household, typically the husband/father, held a full-time job, today it is far more common for both partners in a relationship, regardless of gender, to work. This can create considerable challenges when caring for children.
With childcare costs rising and services in short supply, workplace flexibility is increasingly important to working parents. Today, lack of workplace flexibility is pushing some parents out of the job market – especially bad for the still-struggling world economy. Women in particular are more likely to rank flexible working and work-life balance as important considerations, according to Aon’s 2015 Workforce Mindset Study™. The same study found that a flexible work environment was the second most important factor in deciding whether to take up a job, and a top five most desired area for improvement. Confirming this, three of the top six factors causing full-time workers to quit their jobs were due to difficulties in maintaining a work-life balance, according to a recent EY global survey.
Now that the world’s working-age population is on the decline, according to the latest World Bank figures, maximising the number of people on the job is set to become an increasing concern for governments. With the proportion of women participating in the workplace also in decline over the last decade and the percentage of women in the global labor force stagnant at around 40 percent, making it easier for women to work could add $12 trillion to global growth, according to McKinsey.
At the same time, the world is experiencing a growing global skills shortage, meaning that businesses are eager to discover new ways to attract and retain top talent.
Introducing more adaptable ways of working to enable people to fit their careers around their non-work commitments could be a solution to all these challenges – maximizing workforce participation, reducing gender inequality, and boosting global growth and productivity. This is part of the reason why the U.K. introduced a legal right to request flexible working in 2014.
But with a combination of the rise of new technologies and an increasingly globalized workforce, there are a number of ways to reduce this barrier to workplace participation. So what are some of the alternative approaches that businesses can take – and what are their benefits to both employees and your company’s bottom line?
Thanks to the huge changes in communications technology that many have predicted could revolutionize the way we work in the 35 years since Dolly Parton’s hit song and film came out, there are now more alternatives to 9 to 5 than ever. Here are some of the most popular:
Employees work a set number of hours over a given period, but can choose when they start and finish work (usually agreed in advance with their employer).
Employees work remotely, using the Internet and phones to stay in contact with their colleagues.
Employees work at staggered times, allowing multiple people to use the same workspace at different times of the day and night, or on different days of the week.
Two or more people share the same job, working part-time.
Workers have different start and finish times.
Employees work their full-time hours in fewer than the normal number of days, such as working 40 hours in four 10-hour days rather than five 8-hour days.
A more extreme form of flexitime, the employee has to work a set number of hours a year but has some flexibility over when they do it, usually with some guaranteed hours based around peak periods.
Employees have no fixed hours, just set output targets / deliverables.
Staff attend the workplace only during school term times, going on leave (or shifting to telecommuting or part-time work) during school holidays.
Employees have no guarantee of a minimum number of working hours, but are called on as and when needed, and paid only for the hours they work.
When considering whether flexible working could work for your company, remember that there are potential downsides as well as upsides to most forms of flexible working. What could lead to benefits for one industry, job type or employee could be detrimental to others, and as with any project the key is to be clear on what the intended outcomes are, and how to measure success.
“The 8-hour work day is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the day more endurable. At the same time, we are finding it hard to manage our private life outside of work” – Linus Feldt, CEO, Filimundus
“The benefits of implementing flexible working policies are absolutely clear: happier staff, increased productivity and positive attitudes towards employer and business, to name but a few.” – Manesh Patel, Senior Benefits Consultant, Aon Employee Benefits
“To boost employee freedom while also ensuring productivity there are numerous flexible working options that businesses can offer… we have invested significantly in changing workplace culture, empowering employees to work from anywhere, while celebrating performance over presenteeism. These changes have led to great results including a 20 percent boost in productivity and significant operational cost savings.” – David Langhorn, Head of Corporate and Large Enterprise, Vodaphone UK
“Bias towards stereotyping later starters means employees risk being inadvertently punished for taking advantage of flexible work time programmes… firms should be aware that simply introducing flexible hours on their own can have ramifications that should also be addressed. Indeed, without changes to their review procedures and other practices, they may ultimately be counterproductive.” – Sam Kai Chi Yam, Assistant Professor of Management & Organization, National University of Singapore Business School
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