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Revealed: The Great Flexible Working Gap

There’s something wrong with the way we work. We’re living in technologically advanced times of accelerating connectivity and demographic shifts. Yet, there is a “significant gap” between the supply and demand for flexible working, according to a recent report.

“People are working longer hours with less time to take care of themselves and those they care for. This new normal impacts employee health, happiness, and productivity,” the Future is Flexible study from Werk.co reveals.

A staggering 96% of the U.S. workforce “needs some form of flexibility” and yet only 42% have access to the flexibility they need. Only 19% have access to a range of flexible options, according to the report, which surveyed more than 1,500 U.S. professionals across industries, geographies, and other key demographics.

The flexible working gap is more pronounced for women and non-parents, with only 34% and 33% having access to the flexibility they need, respectively.

However, approximately half of the millennials, male workers and parents surveyed have access to their desired level flexibility.

What is flexible working?

The term ‘flexible working’ is in itself a moveable feast. The report identifies six key flexible working practices, including:

  • TimeShift – employees can reorder their working hours to create an unconventional structure, outside the normal 9 to 5.
  • MicroAgility – employees have the flexibility to step away from their work for one to three hours, but must communicate this with their peers.
  • DeskPlus – employees can vary their working location but are based out of a company office.
  • Remote – employees work independently of any office and can work from anywhere.
  • TravelLite – employees have minimal to no travel, with a maximum of two to four hours traveling time per month.
  • Part-time – employees can work a reduced number of hours.

The most in-demand flexible work option across all demographics was the ability to work away from the office for a portion of the working week. Some 84% of respondents want the DeskPlus option at their work. However, only 21% of respondents have access to this method.

MicroAgility came next, with 82% wanting access to this flexible working method – but it is only available to just over a quarter (26%) of the respondents.

Only 49% of respondents wanted part-time hours to be available to them, making this the least desirable flexible working option. But men and, in particular, millennial men, had the highest interest in part-time work.

The damage of inflexible working

The research identified three key areas that are negatively impacted when employees lack access to flexibility. These include caregiving to dependents, health and wellness, and staff productivity.

A “significant burden” is placed on working parents, according to the report, which also hints at the changing roles in the raising of children. The report reveals: “Millennial men are particularly keen on exploring flexibility as a way to take on a more equal load of caregiving responsibilities.”

Flexible working also helps employees engage in preventative health measures, such as taking regular exercise, attending medical appointments, managing illnesses, or getting enough sleep every night.

A lack of flexibility also negatively impacts the performance and productivity for one-third of the workforce, the report reveals.

How flexible working benefits businesses

Employees without access to flexibility were twice as likely to report being dissatisfied at work and 50% of employees said they would leave their job to find a more flexible alternative.

As such, flexible work options have a largely positive impact on organizational metrics, including employee retention, engagement, and net promoter scores (eNPS). In fact, those employees with access to flexibility have an eNPS that’s 48 points higher, compared to workers without access to flexibility.

The report also highlights a range of other positive organizational outcomes by providing flexible working practices. These include:

  • Gender diversity: the report found 95% of women need access to flexibility, but only 34% have access to the flexibility they need. Some 26% of employees with flexibility were more likely to believe their company is doing what it takes to improve gender equality.
  • An inclusive workplace: the report found employees with access to flexibility are 20% more likely to believe they work in an environment that fosters diverse points of view.
  • Employer brand: flexibility is a differentiator to attract talent, according to the report, where employees with flexibility were 16% more likely to feel their ideas are valued.

Next steps for flexible working

So, what can companies do to leverage flexibility? The report recommends the following steps:

  1. Utilize a flexibility framework: this provides a standardized dialogue between organizations and employees to put flexible working practices into place.
  2. Assess needs: tailor your flexibility options to your staff and their individual needs.
  3. Create customizations: design processes and policies with the greatest impact on your workforce, and provide customization options.
  4. Communicate broadly: take the guesswork out of flexibility by communicating your policies and available programs. Do this internally and externally, to help attract top talent.
  5. Measure impact: use key metrics and by measure baselines before you implement flexible working practices.

The full report from Werk.co is available to download here.

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