Flexible working: a vital differentiator in a challenging labour market

flexible working
iStock/rawpixel
Share this content

Economic pressure and political instability are impacting British businesses’ ability to attract and retain talent. Instead of battening down the hatches, organisations should embrace flexible working as a way of securing the future of their workforce.  

There’s no doubt that UK businesses are facing more challenges now than ever before. The rise of the 24-hour economy means British businesses are constantly trying to keep up with capricious consumer demand, with shifting work patterns, the gig economy and regulatory pressures only adding more complexity and cost.

Meanwhile, as Brexit looms on the horizon, employers are, justifiably, getting more and more concerned about restricted access to talent.

Blue-collar industries are facing this more than most, having traditionally depended upon migrant workers to fill their rosters.

The final nail in the coffin is that the UK is in the depths of a productivity lag, despite putting in more hours than ever before.

Flexibility holds the key to employee happiness

The good news is it’s not all doom and gloom - there’s a way we can ride out these turbulent times.

When seemingly on the brink of losing talent, it’s easy for employers to fall back on pay, but while this might work in some cases, for squeezed sectors like retail, hospitality and transport, increasing wages simply isn’t an option.

So employers need to look for more creative ways of attracting, retaining and motivating teams, which means putting employee happiness at the top of the agenda.

Even more than stability or salary, younger professionals are demanding control and convenience when it comes to managing their careers and their schedules.

From my experience, the best way of boosting employee happiness – and therefore productivity – is by giving workers the flexibility and freedom to choose the schedule that works for them.

It’s a proven approach – indeed, the 2018 HSBC Productivity Study found that nine out of ten workers (89%) think flexible working motivates them to be more productive at work.

A viable solution for our multi-generational workforce

Media attention around flexibility tends to single out the newer entrants to the workforce.

It’s true that flexible working is most important for Gen Z and millennial workers, who will make up more than half of the workforce by 2020.

Even more than stability or salary, younger professionals are demanding control and convenience when it comes to managing their careers and their schedules. This means a tech-led, mobile first approach to workforce management, giving them the ability to plan from the palm of their hand.

We also need to bear in mind that Britain has one of the most multi-generational workforces in the world, and flexibility is also important for the other generations and booming demographics, such as the returners and older workers, who need to ensure their job fits around family life, caring responsibilities or other interests.

Breaking the impasse of flexibility

So what’s stopping UK businesses giving their workforces flexible working hours? The problem is too many employers still equate flexibility with lower productivity and increased costs.

It’s true that due to a combination of factors the UK is facing a challenging time ahead – but it doesn’t have to be the disaster that everyone seems to be preparing for.

They see a trade-off between flexibility and financial performance. They fear logistical headaches and wasted hours wrestling over spreadsheet schedules.

In fact, the opposite is true. With the right tools in place, flexible working is easy.

By cutting down admin and allowing business leaders and employees to collaborate on a schedule that works for everyone, solutions like smart workforce technology can improve productivity, save time, reduce costs and boost employee happiness. What we need is a change in mindset amongst UK businesses.

Sweden holds the answers

In fact, UK business leaders have the chance to learn from other global economies so that they can address the issue. I’m not pretending to have all the answers, but I do feel that the UK can take some insights from my home country of Sweden.

I can’t hide that there are structural differences that impact Sweden’s productivity – such as state-provided childcare and laws designed to make maternity and paternity leave as equal to 50/50 as possible.

There’s also something in the way that Swedes do business that contributes to such high levels of happiness and productivity.

Firstly, Swedish employers are brilliant at optimising workforces, rather than maximising them. There’s a Swedish expression ‘lagom’ that means ‘just the right amount’, which is often applied to the workplace culture and productivity.

Most importantly, it’s embedded in Swedish culture to think as much about engagement as it is about efficiency. In Sweden, employers rely on understanding their employees and offering them flexibility when they manage them.

Take the ‘fika’ break for example: we’ve learned that by giving our employees a short break to switch off and socialise, they’re happier and more productive in the long run.

It’s true that due to a combination of factors the UK is facing a challenging time ahead – but it doesn’t have to be the disaster that everyone seems to be preparing for.

There’s an answer to retaining the top talent during Brexit’s uncertainty, optimising an unproductive workforce and staying abreast of consumer’s 24-hour demands – and that’s flexibility.

Ultimately, giving workers flexibility will mean they choose the work/life balance that suits them and makes them happy - and a happier workforce means increased loyalty and productivity.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Read Dynamic working: flexibility for the next generation of worker.

About Erik Fjellborg

Replies

Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.