Historically flexitime was niche perk in a few large – mostly public sector – organisations that perhaps couldn’t offer the cash incentives offered by other – more commercial – organisations. In the private sector it might be the butt of a joke or twisted as an expectation that staff would stay until the job was done regardless of their contract hours but most certainly not some “new age” work-life-balance arrangement. For most though, the traditional 9 to 5 was the social norm. It had always been like this and there was never a need to change.
However, over the last 30 years so much has changed in terms of demographics and in the political, financial and social sphere that has created a tipping point and we see flexible working accelerating and filtering through into every organisation.
In the 1980’s there was a vision – if not a promise – that as countries got wealthier and our pensions bigger we would be retiring in our 50’s. The so called “Bucket List” of things to do when you retire became a favourite pastime; after all, with life expectancy increasing you had to make plans for a long retirement.
The bucket list remains today, but the dream of retiring at 50 is all but gone for the majority. In 2011 the Government removed the default retirement age (DRA) and have plans to increase retirement age to 68 with some forecasting it could raise to 75 by 2064. Pensions are not what they used to be and even without government initiatives some people just can’t afford to retire.
A student starting work today will be looking forward to 45+ years in work rather than the 30 that the 80’s tantalisingly promised and, when they retire, it is unlikely they will be able to cross many items off their bucket list. The conclusion for many is that if you want to achieve anything on your bucket list you need to be doing it during your working life not waiting until it is over. Our Flexible Survey hinted at such with 31% of those asking for flexible working gave a reason of outside interests/lifestyle.
Another major impact on flexible working has been the increase of women both in work and in leadership positions. In 1976 only 55% of women were in work compared to 93% men, by 2016 that had reached 70% (80% men).
The impact is felt in several ways; historically flexible/part time roles were largely fulfilled by women, but the more women in work, the more this has been normalised and this has been accelerated by women who have subsequently taken on leadership positions and embraced it. In addition, the historical gender bias that the mother is the primary care-giver has been replaced with shared parental responsibility. Now men are asking for for the same flexibility as their spouse to share that responsibility.
Whilst the government has various child care schemes and tax breaks, the fact remains that childcare remains expensive and often inflexible leaving the parents to pick-up the slack. This alone would be sufficient for a tsunami of requests for flexible working, but now we must also consider an aging population and that parental responsibility covers not only looking after your young children, but now also looking after your aging parents.
With the government predicting 1 in 12 people will be aged over 80 by 2039 this additional responsibility outside work is only going to increase and employees are demanding solutions.
So, we have a backdrop of gender equality to – and at work – putting pressure on both parents to take responsibility for their children and their parents which – in the absence of massive state intervention – can only be met by the relatives working flexibly.
We have more women in work normalising flexible working, female leadership endorsing such approaches and equality laws ensuring that men should not be treated any differently.
The ever-increasing period people are expected to work before retirement is forcing people to think differently. The 30-year work sprint followed by 30 years in retirement is over. Employees want to pace their 45+ years at work and cross of some of their bucket lists along the way.
The flexitime “perk” that became a “request” is now becoming a demand even in the private sector with 55% of candidates (according to our latest 2018 survey) basing their decision on this factor.
Organisations are having to adapt to this new norm very quickly; Competition for talent is heating up with unemployment levels the lowest since 1975. With Brexit looming and lack of easy access to European talent, organisations will have to work hard to attract and retain talented staff.
But there is good news too; Often flexible working enables staff to reduce their time and costs (childcare, peak-time travel) which outweighs an increase in pay. Various studies show that flexitime workers are absent/sick less frequently too saving the organisation disruption and costs. In terms of staff retention, flexitime uniquely integrates the employee working and non-working time, making the employee much less likely to leave. Finally, with 55% of candidates including flexible working in their decision, promoting such a policy is likely to increase both the quantity and quality of recruits.
Therefore, in terms of increased productivity, reduced costs, staff engagement, retention and attraction a move to flexible working can provide an organisation with a significant competitive advantage. Whilst managing flexible working might have historically been a headache, new cloud-based systems remove all the pain and provide additional real-time information, transparency and integration into HR and Payroll.