Women who are able to work flexibly are benefitting UK business and working at increased levels of productivity.
A new study has compared the productivity of a group of women who set their own hours or working location against a group of those who are not doing so, and found that they benefit from feeling happier and less stressed. However, drawbacks include missing out on their workplace’s social life and feeling lonelier.
In this connected world, all many people need to work is a laptop and a stable internet connection
Flexible working can include working from home, part-time working, flexitime, and job sharing. Under provisions set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and regulations made under it, all employees have a statutory right to ask their employer for a change to their contractual terms and to work flexibly, provided they have worked for their employer for 26 weeks continuously at the date the application is made.
Happier and more effective employees
A fifth of those working flexibly (19%) had enquired about doing so in their very first interview for a job. Women are more likely to be able to choose to set the hours they work – 48 per cent reported this – than choose the location they work from, which just one in five are flexible in.
The main benefits female employees see from working flexibly are:
- Having more time to spend with their families (said by 41% of respondents)
- Feeling happier (said by 39 per cent)
- Feeling less stressed (said by 38 per cent)
Flexible workers said they felt they worked effectively for more of a typical working day than those working a traditional ‘nine-to-five’. A quarter of respondents say they work longer hours in their new flexi routine than they did when they were shackled to normal office hours. In fact, flexi-workers think they put in six hours more each week on average than they did when they were at their desks in the office.
Olivia Hill, Chief HR Officer at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) who commissioned the study, said: “Flexible working has a huge number of benefits for employees and employers alike. In this connected world, all many people need to work is a laptop and a stable internet connection, which can be found in many places other than the office environment. It seems employers are also becoming more likely to allow flexible hours as well as flexibility with location – assuming that as long as the job gets done, it doesn’t really matter when and where it happens – the most important thing is strong levels of productivity.”
Almost four in 10 respondents to the study (37%) say the option of flexible working is offered company-wide, although 15 per cent say it was offered only to them specifically. One in five (20%) said they had to ask for the option.
Over half of women working flexibly (52%) say they can never see themselves returning to a more traditional work routine, and three quarters say it’s a key perk at their current job. However, 76% per cent say they’d be reluctant to leave their current place of work if a new one didn’t allow the same flexibility, meaning that some may be trapped in a job if they are unable to find a new organisation which allows them the same situation.
Flexible working has to become more accepted and commonplace in every work environment
Despite the many benefits, the study also shows that working flexibly can have its downsides; one in five respondents (19%) worry that working flexibly means they have less opportunity to engage in workplace social life and events, 16 per cent said it made them feel lonelier, 15 per cent said they feel guilty for working more conveniently than their colleagues, and 14 per cent are concerned they may be passed over for promotions or other work responsibilities, as they’re out of sight and potentially out of mind.
3 per cent of women who do not work flexibly say they think they do more work than their colleagues who take advantage of flexible working, and 41 per cent said they are envious of their colleagues who work flexibly.
Olivia Hill added: “It’s worrying that many flexible workers feel that their colleagues see them as work-shy, or feel that they may be passed over for promotions. For this to change, flexible working has to become more accepted and commonplace in every work environment. Allowing flexible working helps organisations keep a diverse range of employees, because they are able to balance their work and other commitments in a way that works for them. Many employees, especially younger people, now prioritise having a good work-life balance when looking for a job, so organisations offering flexible working will have a better chance of attracting and retaining them. “The UK works some of the longest hours compared to our European neighbours, however our productivity is lagging behind; flexible working results in not only happier but more productive employees. The business case for flexible working really does add up, but there will need to be a cultural shift for it to be embraced and embedded more widely.”
I asked whether I could work flexibly in my first interview with my workplace
Julie Hodgskin, from London, works for three days a week for a chartered association. This allows her to also teach at a local university for the equivalent of another day, and for the rest of the week run her own accounting practice. She has been working flexibly for three years, and is able to move her work days to suit her and her employer, as well as choose to work from home.
Julie says: “I asked whether I could work flexibly in my first interview with my workplace. Working flexibly is offered company-wide, so they were happy with my request and made time to discuss it. I don’t feel that there are any downsides to working flexibly for me; I like working alone sometimes, and sometimes I like being involved with people, this way I get to do both.
“I feel that working flexibly has allowed me to widen my horizons and develop transferable skills, and that it has made me more desirable as an employee. I also feel that I work harder in my flexible working routine than I did before.
“It has made me more loyal to the organisation I work for, and I think even my colleagues are happy for me to pursue flexible working hours. I can’t see myself returning to a more standard work routine in the future.”