How flexible working can boost staff wellbeing
How flexible working can boost staff wellbeing
In 2013, more than 20 employers, including B&Q, Ford and Mitie, joined forces to launch the Agile Future Forum, which aims to develop practical support to increase flexible working practices across the UK. The government has also joined the effort through its Children and Families Bill, which legislates that, from 30 June 2014, all UK employees have the right to request flexible working from their employer.
Employment Minister Jo Swinson says: “We want to change the culture around flexible working so that it becomes the norm in many workplaces, not a special case.
“The latest extension of the right to request to all employees will be beneficial for employers because they will reap the benefits of a motivated and efficient workforce.”
The term flexible working is used to describe many different styles of working, including part-time hours, job sharing, extended hours, working from home, compressed hours and flexi-time.
Dr Mark Winwood, clinical director of psychological services at Axa PPP Healthcare, says: “It can mean a whole range of different things, and different types of arrangement will suit different people.
“The more control any of us feel we have over our working lives, the better we feel about work. Being allowed to choose hours that suit them and the business gives employees the ultimate sense of control.”
The concept of flexible working has evolved over the past decade to be part of an employer’s overall engagement and wellbeing agenda.
Sarah Henchoz, partner at law firm Allen and Overy, says: “It’s good for retention, it’s good for morale and it gives people the ability to have more balance, which is good from a health perspective. As long as employers can balance that with the needs of the business, then it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
Family friendly policies
Flexible working arrangements were first introduced to create more family friendly working environments. Anne Longfield, chief executive of charity 4Children, says: “The likes of John Lewis, Royal Mail, Barclays and Danone all proudly espouse their family friendly credentials, not just because it sends a positive message about their ethics and values, but also because it makes excellent business sense.”
Swinson adds: “Flexible working has helped many people to balance their caring responsibilities with work, and has helped stamp out the notion that starting or supporting a family means the end of your working career.”
More and more employees will also struggle to balance eldercare responsibilities with their working life. Winwood adds: “Going forward, so much more of the workforce are going to be full-time carers, as well as full-time employees.”
Jonathan Swan, research and policy manager at Working Families, says that with these increased caring responsibilities, the UK will gradually move towards a flexible lifestyle approach.
This means an employee might work full-time for the first part of their career, reduce their hours when they start a family, come back to regular hours, work flexibly again to manage care for an elderly relative, then return to work full-time before gradually reducing hours as they approach retirement.
“It is an approach where there are troughs and peaks, where people’s needs change and working arrangements change to fit those needs,” says Swan.
Alastair Denton, managing director at Edenred, adds: “[Flexible working] enables a much more controlled way for a family to manage their life well. It means that partners have the ability to share things, and that is a massive mental health positive, physical health positive and child nurturing positive as well.”
Workplace stress and mental wellbeing
The opportunity to work flexibly also enables employees to work at their optimum times. Axa’s Winwood references individual body clocks, which mean that different times of the day suit different people.
“We don’t all fit into that nine-to-five pattern,” he says. “Flexible working will allow morning people to seize the opportunity to work in the morning.
“People with psychological conditions might also benefit from flexible working, in order for them to complete various interventions. Someone with bipolar disorder will take some medications that can make them feel very groggy in the morning. If they are able to work slightly later, it would benefit them and the organisation.”
Denton adds: “Stress is a massive issue in the workplace. If [employers] give employees flexibility that reduces that level of stress, the long-term wellbeing of the workplace will be improved.”
Flexible working opportunities can also help employees’ physical wellbeing, for instance where employers provide staff with morning or lunch-time exercise classes, or offer more flexible hours to enable them to go to the gym or commute by bike.
“Flexible working will allow people to take part in the many wellbeing at work initiatives employers are promoting at the moment,” says Winwood. “It will give people more time to do exercise, go to early morning gym sessions, go for a run or go to the shops to buy healthy food.
“If an employer can change the times when people are working, they can also use different modes of transport to get to the office. If it’s not rush hour, they might be more confident to get on their bikes to get to work.”
Flexible working can also be a time-saver, says Allen and Overy’s Henchoz. “Employees with long commutes can get more hours back in their days or fit jobs in, such as medical appointments or having the boiler fitted,” she says. “From those perspectives, you can’t see it as being detrimental to health; you can only see it as positive.”
Ultimately, flexible working allows staff to balance their home and working lives in a way that suits them. Winwood adds: “It is really important to balance the spiritual and healthy you, family and important relationships, and work in equal harmony.
“If work is taking over the other two, just by virtue of the timeframe, the other two bits of your triangle are not going to be very enriched. Flexible working, on the whole, will allow people to have a more balanced life.”
Flexible working clearly benefits employees’ work-life balance, mental wellbeing and physical health, but it also has benefits for employers. Swan adds: “The most forward-looking organisations see it as working with the grain of employees’ lives, rather than just imposing a set of policies that they may or may not take up.
“They see it as a more holistic thing, dovetailing working life with the way that people actually live.”
Petaurum Solutions’ Comment
As the contributors to the article have all highlighted, developing an approach to work that can balance the interests of both the business and their employees’ lifestyles can produce positive results for both parties. As businesses are more and more looking to take advantage of the round the clock global economy, the requirement to think about how best to maximise this opportunity may require creative thinking about resourcing. Developing family friendly policies is one way to help meet this need and as the article points out, could unlock some of the hidden potential and performance in employees by employing them when they are at their most productive. At Petaurum Solutions we have a wide range of experience in helping businesses strike this balance, so talk to us you will not be disappointed.
This information is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with. The information provided here was accurate as of the day it was posted; however, the law may have changed since that date. This information is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for taking legal, HR or benefits advice in any specific situation. Petaurum Solutions is not responsible for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this information. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.