Countering negative attitudes to flexible working

We are in the midst of some enormous shifts in our working culture, with flexible and remote working becoming a more common feature, and often the standard approach in some organisations. 97% of UK businesses now offer at least one form of flexible working, according to an article in the Financial Times, which discusses the seemingly minimal take-up of flexible working in UK despite policy shifts.

In some industries in particular flexible working is not being actively encouraged or grasped by workers. Why is there is still reluctance and resistance to the idea? It’s not only company leaders who are resisting, employees are reluctant to enquire about options for fear of being negatively perceived. It’s time we busted the myths and dispelled the remaining anxiety around flexible working patterns…

It will cost my business

In actual fact, negative attitudes to flexible working are probably one of the biggest things holding back British businesses. While it is has been shown in multiple surveys and reports that the majority of workers favour flexible working options over any employment benefit, a third of employees still worry that their bosses will think negatively of them if they were to request flexible or remote working options, according to a poll from webexpenses.

It is becoming increasingly accepted that happier, healthier employees who are able to maintain a work life balance will be more productive. The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM)’s ‘Goodbye 9 to 5’ study found a  huge 82% of managers thought that flexible working was beneficial to their business, in terms of improved staff productivity, commitment and staff retention, with almost 40% of UK bosses saying they can see the positive impact mobile working has on their business’ bottom line. Plus, since 81% of respondents to a My Family Care/Hydrogen report stated they would look for flexible work options before joining a new company, it is an essential condition to have to ensure you attract the talent you need.

It shows a lack of commitment

Amazingly, this negative perception comes from younger employees; with a survey of Gen Y finding that 31% believe that opting to work means being less committed to their work. On the contrary, people who take on flexible working are very committed, determined people. Many of Obelisk’s own consultants are simultaneously running businesses or pursuing other goals they would otherwise not have been able to. The fact is they are fully engaged with their work, perhaps even more so, as they are doing it because they want to. Flexible working allows people a route to continue or return to the work they love when they might have otherwise been forced to give up. The opportunity to do so is very much appreciated and is never taken for granted.

It’s only for women with children

Obelisk consultants include women with children, women without, men with children, and men without. Flexible working isn’t about allowing a certain demographic to work differently; it’s adopting a change to our entire working culture for better wellbeing, use of talent and productivity across the board. It’s important as a manager to offer flexible working options that are available and encouraged for all employees, to avoid creating resentment and ensuring that a complete culture is created, rather than some additional conditions for a few.

We don’t have the technology

You don’t need to overhaul your system to allow people to work remotely and securely from their own devices. By ensuring you put a strong mobile working policy in place, you can keep files and sensitive information secure. Shared drives and messaging platforms are all cost effective and easy to set up around systems already in place. Mobile working technology can be invested in and maintained within even the slimmest of budgets.

It is not appropriate for managers and more senior professionals

The culture of presenteeism is particularly prevalent amongst senior employees and business owners, so it’s understandable that many senior managers simply think that flexible working doesn’t apply to them. As previously stated, it is vital that flexible working options are available to all employees of all ages, and indeed levels, to foster a successful flexible working environment.

At Obelisk we have seen huge changes in approaches to flexible working in the legal services industry. We look at every role in terms of an opportunity for more flexible way of making work work, whether it is full time, part-time or remote. Attitudes are changing but we need to keep the conversation going to ensure options are made available to everyone, and are more widely taken up.