Four reasons why we’d all be better off if companies embraced flexible working

Flexible working is often considered a ‘female issue’. But in fact there are good reasons why we’d all benefit if flexible working was the norm. Here are four.

Flexible working norms vary around the world, but it is encouraging to learn that the UK is facing a rise in companies offering flexible working over the next three years.

In 2017, more than 50% of medium to large companies are expected to offer flexible working, and by 2020, over 70% should have jumped aboard this trend.

Without going into a brief history of flexible working, it’s interesting to note that it has only been in the last two years that flexible working has been made available to everyone, not just those with care responsibilities.

Widening the parameters for eligibility is perhaps one of the most important things that could have happened for women, because it’s no longer about childcare, it’s about work-life balance.

With this in mind, here are the top four reasons we’d all be better off if companies embraced flexible working.

1) It would help to banish the pay gap

When we talk about smashing the glass ceiling, we’re often talking about getting more women into senior management positions.

But there’s another ceiling we need to smash. Or, more accurately, a wall. It’s the wall that goes up when a woman chooses to start a family and is forced to walk away from her career and get a job.

This often involves taking a part time role on minimum wage, or a zero hours contract that she’s wholly overqualified for. And that zaps her confidence and earning ability.

Indeed, a survey by PwC found that two thirds of women returning to work after having a child resumed their roles at a level below their ability. And the blame for this trend was placed firmly on the lack of flexible working opportunities.

To stand on equal footing in the workplace, flexible working needs to be something that is discussed with employees at interview stage. Flexible working should be a given. It should be something we take for granted, because the days of the 9-5 office job are behind us.

2) It would encourage a healthier work-life balance

By encouraging all employees to consider flexible working requests, it ceases to be a women’s issue. It stops being about being able to make the school run, and starts being about all workers taking control of their working day in a way that makes them happier, healthier and more productive.

Who wouldn’t benefit from being able to work from home at short notice if they are expecting a delivery or had a family emergency? And with commute times on the increase, cutting down your commute to only four days a week could help workers to reclaim a precious few hours.

3) It would boost productivity

I’s not just employees who stand to benefit from flexible working; it’s been proven many times that flexible working actually boosts productivity.

Many bosses shy away from the concept because they have visions of paying their workers to sit at home in their pyjamas. But, while some people might not be suited to the freedom and self-discipline of flexible working, for many people it’s actually far more productive.

It’s also an effective way to make savings on overheads such as power bills and, in some extreme cases, the cost of having an office altogether.

If your entire team can work remotely, then why not take advantage of not needing a permanent office space and save on those costs? Some businesses have taken this to the extreme and built up a remote, distributed team.

4) It would give workers the chance to care

Caring for children isn’t the only reason to request flexible working, but it’s certainly a good one.

Having a child isn’t the only way you can start a family or give care, and flexible working could help families with other forms of childcare, such as fostering and adoption.

Both are emotionally exhausting and can take a toll on parents and carers, and it’s sad to see that not all foster carers feel supported. A survey by The fostering Network found that only 16% of foster carers surveyed reported having a foster-friendly HR policy, and only 50% would describe their line manager as sympathetic.

For this reason some local councils and private fostering agencies prefer their foster carers to only have one carer in work. But if flexible working were more readily available we would be likely to see the numbers of eligible foster carers soar, which can only be a good thing for everyone.