What is flexible working?



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9 mins

In today’s fast-paced world, traditional 9-to-5 office jobs are no longer the only option for a successful and fulfilling career. Flexible working challenges conventional work structures, allowing them to tailor their work schedules, locations and arrangements to better suit their personal needs and preferences

In this blog post, we will delve into the fundamental principles of flexible working, explore its various forms, and highlight the numerous benefits it offers to both employees and employers.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working refers to an alternative work arrangement that deviates from the traditional setup of fixed hours and a fixed employment location. It offers employees the freedom to adapt their work schedules, working hours or even their workplace, enabling them to strike a balance between professional responsibilities and personal commitments. This modern approach to work recognises that every individual has unique needs and circumstances. By providing flexibility, the CIPD found that employers can enhance job satisfaction, boost productivity and foster a healthier work-life balance.

In the UK, all employees currently have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks. However, this is due to change to give employees even more freedom. In July of 2023, the Flexible Working Bill gained Royal Assent and is expected to come into force sometime in 2024. Workers can expect increased benefits and protections:

  • The right to request flexible working from day one of starting a new job, with two statutory requests allowed within any 12-month period
  • Employers must consult with an employee before refusing a request for flexible working
  • Employers must approve or deny flexible working within two months of the request being made
  • Employees no longer need to discuss the effect flexible working would have on their employer (if any)

What is considered a flexible working arrangement?

When the phrase ‘flexible working’ springs to mind, the arrangement you’re thinking of will typically include either part-time working, remote work, or adjusted hours. But did you know, there are many other types of flexible working arrangements? In fact, gov.uk identifies eight commonly recognised types of flexible working, each of which offers its own benefits: 

  • Working from home – grants employees the freedom to carry out their tasks and responsibilities remotely, providing convenience and potentially reducing commuting time and costs. Many employees enjoy working from home because of the flexibility it provides to fit in tasks such as picking up children from school, or because they can exercise during their lunch break, for example
  • Part-time – this arrangement offers employees the opportunity to work fewer hours than a standard full-time schedule, allowing them to accommodate various life commitments
  • Job sharing – allows two employees to split the responsibilities and hours of a single full-time position, promoting collaboration and diverse skillsets
  • Flexitime – provides a degree of autonomy in setting start and end times within pre-defined core hours, providing a balance between work and personal life
  • Annualised hours – calculates an employee’s annual working hours, allowing for flexibility in distributing those hours throughout the year
  • Compressed hours – fits the standard working week into fewer, longer days, allowing employees to have more extended periods of time off
  • Staggered hours – creates different starting and finishing times for employees within the same organisation, suiting their individual preferences and the needs of the business (for example, when it comes to staffing a customer care helpdesk)
  • Phased retirement – enables older employees to reduce their working hours gradually, easing the transition into retirement while supporting knowledge retention and knowledge transfer 

By exploring and understanding these eight types of flexible working, employees and employers can find the ideal arrangement that best aligns with their respective needs and organisational goals.

What is considered flexible working hours?

Flexible working hours encompass a diverse array of arrangements that provide employees with greater control over when they work.

For instance, some organisations may establish core work hours during which all employees are required to be present or available for collaboration. Within these core hours, employees can enjoy the flexibility to adjust their start and finish times according to their personal preferences or other commitments. This approach accommodates different lifestyles and ensures that employees can maintain a work-life balance while still meeting their professional obligations.

Additionally, working from home or telecommuting options allow employees to complete their tasks from the comfort of their own space, permitting greater flexibility in choosing when to be most productive during the day. Similarly, part-time schedules can offer employees the freedom to work specific hours or days that best align with their personal life, providing the flexibility to fulfil both work and family responsibilities effectively.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of flexible working hours?

As with most things in life, flexible working comes with advantages and disadvantages. 

The advantages

Flexible working hours offer a plethora of advantages for both employers and employees,  According to a survey from Gartner, 43% of respondents said that flexible working hours helped them increase productivity.

For employees, the flexibility to set their own work schedules enables a better work-life balance, reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being. This improved balance can lead to increased job satisfaction, higher motivation levels and greater engagement. Flexible working options, such as remote work or telecommuting, also save employees valuable time and money that would otherwise be spent on commuting, translating into greater overall happiness and increased retention rates. In fact, a study from FlexJobs found that 80% of respondents agreed they’d be more loyal to employers that embrace flexible working.

Embracing flexibility can also attract top talent, especially the Millennial and Gen Z workforce who prioritise work-life integration and value employers who offer flexible arrangements. According to a survey from ManpowerGroup Solutions, 40% of candidates list workplace flexibility as one of the top three factors they consider when selecting an employer. Research from the CIPD backed this up, finding that 6% of employees switched jobs in 2022 due to a lack of flexible working options, and 12% left their profession entirely. That add ups to between two and four million workers.

Additionally, the CIPD’s health and wellbeing at work survey found that flexible working reduced absence rates – a positive for both employers and employees.

The disadvantages

While flexible working hours offer numerous benefits, it’s essential to acknowledge some potential challenges that may arise for both employers and employees.

For employees, maintaining a clear boundary between work and personal life can become challenging when working remotely or during unconventional hours. This can lead to overworking and potential workplace burnout if not managed effectively. Additionally, some employees may feel isolated or disconnected from their team when working remotely, affecting collaboration and communication.

Employers, on the other hand, might face challenges in ensuring proper supervision and maintaining team cohesion when employees work outside the traditional office environment. Establishing effective communication channels and providing the right technological infrastructure becomes crucial in overcoming these hurdles.

We offer a selection of online courses that will give managers the support and guidance they need to make flexible working a success within their team. Our management eLearning content pack features hybrid working and future ways of working (targeted towards remote teams) modules, which cover everything from navigating the evolving work model to improving communication.

Furthermore, certain job roles and industries may not be as compatible with flexible working arrangements, requiring careful consideration to ensure the feasibility and success of implementation.

Despite these challenges, by addressing them proactively and fostering a culture of trust and accountability, flexible working can lead to significant advantages for both employers and employees, creating a more engaged and resilient workforce.

Choosing the right HR software is one such way organisations can reduce the disadvantages of flexible working, including communication, cohesion and more. Ciphr HR, for example, can help with everything from onboarding, training and administrative tasks through to performance management, leave management and employee-self-service capabilities. This, in turn, enhances employee satisfaction, retention and overall productivity.

Does flexible working improve productivity?

The short answer is: yes, flexible working can indeed improve employee productivity. Embracing flexible work arrangements has been found to have a positive impact on employee performance and overall organisational outcomes. One of the key reasons for this improvement is the reduction in employee turnover rates. According to a study by the International Workplace Group (IWG), 85% of businesses reported an increase in productivity as a result of adopting flexible work policies, which also led to a significant reduction in employee turnover. By allowing employees the freedom to manage their work schedules and adapt their routines to personal commitments, organisations foster a sense of trust and empowerment, leading to higher job satisfaction and, consequently, decreased turnover.

Furthermore, flexible working has been linked to increased employee engagement. The flexibility to choose when and where to work can enhance work-life balance, reducing stress in the workplace and burnout. Not only that, a study conducted by Gallup found that highly engaged teams experience 21% greater profitability.

Employees who feel supported in balancing their work and personal life are more likely to be emotionally invested in their roles and committed to achieving organisational goals. Empowered with the ability to arrange their work in a way that suits them best, employees are more likely to be motivated, focused, and productive. As organisations continue to adopt flexible working practices, these statistics substantiate the positive impact of such arrangements on productivity and overall business success.

Make your organisation more appealing with flexible working

Flexible working undeniably improves productivity, reduces turnover, and increases employee engagement – creating a more motivated and content workforce. As organisations embrace the benefits of flexible work arrangements, it becomes an attractive draw for job candidates seeking a better work-life balance and increased autonomy.

Here at Ciphr, we understand the significance of fostering a flexible work culture, and our comprehensive HR and recruitment software, and onboarding software, can play a pivotal role in supporting your organisation’s transition to a flexible working environment. Our onboarding software ensures that new hires are informed from day one about the flexible working options available at your organisation, helping them feel valued and part of your organisation. With our HR software, all documents related to flexible working are readily accessible, enabling employees to manage their schedules efficiently and HR teams to maintain compliance with policies.

Book a demo or download our brochure to discover how our innovative solutions can empower your organisation to thrive in the modern workplace.