Making the most of flexible working
13 November 2012
In response to the Flexible Working Announcement today, Age UK highlights that flexible working is not just for parents – and I couldn’t agree more.
Work-life balance programmes are provided by many employers to help employees cope with childcare responsibilities. Whilst many have taken up the option, far more other types of carers require flexibility in the hours or location of work: those caring for ageing parents, or relatives in ill health. Informal carers save the UK economy £119 billion per year, although many compromise their own employment prospects by taking time off to provide for the needs of their families and friends. With people living longer and the proportion of people with long-term conditions set to rise, the need for informal carers is likely to grow, with more employees struggling to balance the dependency on stable employment for income with the burden of household responsibilities.
Informal carers could benefit from similar adjustments of working hours to those provided to parents, and employers – first and foremost – could do more to accommodate these needs. It is imperative that workplace interventions consider the variety of circumstances that an individual employee may face, and support them appropriately to optimise the workforce commitment and productivity in workplaces.
However, concerns around flexible working are not exclusively related to issues of availability ; there is also the anxiety that may surround taking up such provision. Even where such programmes are in place and open to all staff, the reality of them is that many employees are uncertain whether ‘it is OK’ to work flexibly. What The Work Foundation finds in its research into the employee-employer relationship, is that many workers feel compelled to justify their homeworking or flexible working by being constantly ‘visible’ online, for example, by frequently checking their emails or responding to phone calls whilst not in office. This finding points at the lack of trust between the employee and their manager, and colleagues, which is likely to bring about stress and lower productivity.
In order to be effective, the practice of flexible working should be communicated from the top of organisations, and modelled by senior managers. If an employee feels uneasy about taking up the flexible working option, they are unlikely to benefit from the programme in the first place. On the other hand, if employees are confident that their organisation genuinely cares for their wellbeing, they are likely to respond with extra effort and stay with their employer for longer.