When you think of flexible working, what kind of employee demographic comes to mind? Working parents? Likely primarily mothers? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. Historically, flexible working has very much been seen as the domain of those employees with childcare responsibilities to work around. With the majority of primary carers still being mums rather than dads, it is easy to see how flexible working can have been dismissed by organisations as something which is required by the few, not the many.

The reality is very different. As the worlds of work and home sit more and more closely alongside each other, integrated in a way which would have been unimaginable even ten years ago, thanks to advances in technology, there are fewer and fewer of us who are comfortable with working a fixed and rigid 9-5 in the office.

The most desirable workplace benefit

Flexible working was cited by almost half of all respondents as the most desirable workplace benefit, according to a piece of research last year by CV Library. No longer is flexible working something which is only sought out by those with caring responsibilities. It is something which increasing numbers of the workforce are standing up and demanding, to allow them to effectively integrate their work and home lives.

I have long held a belief that the traditional 9-5 is dead. The most forward-thinking workplaces out there have acknowledged that individuals want the flexibility to identify a working pattern which works for them, their families, their personal lives and the business for which they work. In that respect, flexible working is one of the most powerful recruitment and retention tools an organisation has in its armoury, and can transform the culture and ethos of a workforce for minimal cost.

Increased productivity

For the organisation still viewing flexible working with trepidation, there are also multiple studies which point to a correlation between increased flexibility of working patterns and improved levels of productivity. We are kidding ourselves if we think that everyone who works for us is at their most productive between the hours of 9am and 5pm. Some people do their best work in the early hours of the morning; others struggle to get going before noon, but are on fire during the evening. Acknowledging this allows both your employees and your business to get the most from what they do for you.

Most readers will be aware that there is currently only a legal right for employees to request flexible working once they have accrued 26 weeks of continuous employment with their employer. However, referring back to my previous comments on recruitment, retention and productivity levels, I struggle to understand why organisations wouldn’t want to introduce the option for employees to work flexibly for every single person who comes to work for them.

A minor adjustment

Flexible working can mean many different things to many different people. While organisations might panic about the concept of having to embrace flexible working and the resulting challenge in coordinating working patterns, the reality is that for most of us, the flexibility we are looking for requires only minor adjustments to the traditional working day.

I have worked flexibly for the last ten years, since the birth of my first child. After 6 months of maternity leave I initially worked a four day week. When the time came for my son to start school, I adjusted my working hours to work a five day week but finishing early on certain days to enable me to do the school run. Now, with both of my children in school, I bookend my days working from home and ensure that I have at least one day a week where I can pick them up at 3.30pm when school finishes.

The above has only been possible for me thanks to two incredibly forward-thinking employers (Candyking, who were always heavily influenced by their Nordic roots and the far more pragmatic approach to working patterns and the overall employee experience than we have historically seen here; and subsequently of course Benefex), who were prepared to work with an employee who simply couldn’t be in the office full time and also fulfil her parenting responsibilities.

Significant changes

Because of the many and varied benefits having the ability to work flexibly has brought me, my family, and, I believe, my employers, I have always been passionate about ensuring that I work to open it up to as many people as possible. Which meant that, at the start of April this year, we saw some significant changes here at Benefex.

Our culture as a business is very much centered around ensuring a positive and personalised employee experience. We are also a diverse organisation, employing people from a wide variety of backgrounds and demographics. Treating all of these people as one entity and expecting them all to work a standardised working pattern simply didn’t make sense.

What we have therefore done is to do away with having ‘standard’ contractual hours. And that’s for absolutely everyone in the business. We don’t believe flexible working is something which only works for certain, more junior roles in the business. Absolutely everyone who works at Benefex, whether they’re in their first role out of university, or whether they’re one of our Board directors, now has the ability to work a working pattern – full or part time – which works for them.

Achieving more in less

During a period of consultation, managers and the People team worked to meet individually with employees to find a working pattern which worked for them and for their lifestyles whilst still meeting the needs of the business. At the same time, we have also reduced the length of our working week. Our office operating hours remain the same, but we have challenged ourselves as individuals to achieve more while actually working less. I firmly believe that the typically long length of the working week in the UK actually has an adverse effect on productivity. By shortening the working week, energy levels are higher and we actually end up delivering more.

Despite some trepidation on the part of our managers as to how we would make a non-standard working day work across the teams… it turns out, the changes people have been looking for have been actually minimal. For most people, flexible working doesn’t mean working in the middle of the night from a remote location. Actually, for the vast majority of us, all we’re looking for is a flex of half an hour or so on when our working day starts and finishes.

Many and varied benefits

For some of us this will indeed be to carry out caring responsibilities, but what we’ve discovered since we’ve rolled out flexible working to the entire workforce is that there are a whole host of reasons why people might want to flex their working day. The benefits people have reported since changing their working hours at the start of April have been many and varied. From being able to get to a dance class or football training in time, to skipping the traffic in the morning, to catching a later train so that they can have breakfast with their children… to the simple pleasure of getting home in time to watch Pointless in the evening!

These might all sound like tiny little things, but each one of them has had a huge impact on the quality of the overall employee experience for that particular individual. What’s more, it’s hopefully proved to them that we don’t just treat our people as a numbered resource. This is about us being upfront with people about wanting to allow them to effectively integrate their home and working lives… because we know all parties benefit when we do so.

The workforce of the future

Flexible working needs to move from being something which is feared by organisations to something which businesses embrace as one of the most valuable tools they have to support and sustain their workforce of the future. If you’re an organisation not already doing this, then it’s time to ask yourself why.

If you’re an employee reading this who doesn’t already have the ability to work flexibly, perhaps it’s time to challenge your employer as to the reasons why not. And, if they’re not willing to change… well, why not come and have a chat to our recruitment team here at Benefex. In line with our continued growth we have a number of live vacancies currently – all of which can be worked flexibly. You never know… we might be just what you’re looking for.