Flexitime – The new normal

 

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.

Contact us for more information on flexitime

Lone Workers – The Hidden Workforce

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There are over 6 million lone workers in the UK which represents about 20% of the UK workforce. They represent the “hidden” workforce that is under represented in an office they rarely frequent.

Lone Workers can be found in most – if not all – organisations across industry and performing a varied set of functions for the business.

The NHS is one such organisation with up to 100,000 (9% of its workforce) health care professionals who work on their own every day.

There are significant challenges for organisations with Lone Workers that are often underestimated by senior management and misunderstood by managers. This can often manifest itself by regarding Lone Workers as a nuisance or “heavy maintenance” because systems, processes and procedures are often designed around the majority (80%+) office-based staff.

Office based on-boarding processes and procedures are generally well understood; desk, chair, space, landline, laptop can be often allocated and deployed without issue, but Lone Workers often have differing requirements, and these can be interpreted as staff being “awkward” or a “nuisance” rather than simply having a different set of requirements to office-based workers. This can create resentment from both management and lone workers.

Maintaining a coherent company culture that often is cultivated informally within an office environment (the so called “water cooler” chats) are weakened through remote and lone workers and more proactive and organised interactions and events are required to ensure company values and culture are shared and embodied equally among staff. As important is the need to ensure positive relationships across the organisation.

Whilst hierarchical structures might appear to be the main mechanism in order to execute strategy, the reality is that at ground level, it is positive relationships which are responsible for getting the job done. Remote and Lone workers have less interaction and therefore the potential for less positive relationships exist and this can negatively affect productivity within and across teams.

The issue of duty of care also becomes more complicated when staff are not office-based and must be dealt with thoroughly. The law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone. (Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999).

There is no magic process for this given that Lone Workers work in a variety of settings and environments, from working in a petrol station, working at home or in a care setting visiting a patient. Each scenario is different and requires a detailed analysis of risks along with a mitigation plan.

Lone Workers – by their very nature – are at greater risk than office-based workers and need additional support. As many as 150 lone workers are either physically or verbally attacked EVERY day (British Crime Survey) and the Royal College of Nursing noted that more than 6% of lone workers in the NHS had been physically attacked.

These statistics should provide a stark reminder to those responsible for risk assessment and mitigation that such risks should not be treated as a theoretical tick-box exercise but a reality that needs to be addressed.

Risk assessment and mitigation needs to include the environment that the lone worker is subject to, the tasks the lone worker is expected to carry out, the associated risks with both environment and activities as well as compiling a list of potential scenarios and how they could be addressed. This should include procedures, training, tools, technology and equipment that either prevent, mitigate or provide for the ability to escape harm and/or rapid response.

The very nature of lone working means that neither colleagues or management are “by their side” to help advise, assist, support the lone worker in case of an adverse event.

Below (non exhaustive) list of areas an organisation should consider;

Conflict Management Training:

The ability to de-escalate as situation before it becomes physical/violent.

Real-Time Risk Assessment and Awareness training:

There are many situations that cannot be foreseen or turned into a process/procedure so the ability for the lone worker to make this assessment and take appropriate action is critical when unable to contact their manager.

The provision of protective equipment and medical kit:

Where appropriate and specific to their task these can be essential.

Technology, Mobile Tracking and alerting:

There are solutions that enable Lone Workers to be – by consent – tracked during their working time so that management can exercise their duty of care. Some systems also have a panic button on the mobile device that can alert staff and/or alert staff when they have not received a GPS position after a certain amount of time or indeed haven’t changed position after a set amount of time.

Culture and Relationships:

It is important for the organisation to create opportunities to build relationships with both office-based and lone worker staffing groups recognising that this doesn’t happen naturally. Examples of this could be company days, office days, or events held off-site and bring staff together in a neutral environment. This also creates opportunities to reinforce company culture and values within and between teams.

Part of this is not just recognising there are different staffing groups but also explaining these differences and communicating the value each bring to the organisation. The value of doing this should not be underestimated or disregarded as a “warm and fuzzy” initiative but key to ensuring that part of your workforce isn’t unseen and undervalued.

In conclusion, whilst lone workers are rarely seen in the office, it is imperative that they do not become your “Hidden” workforce. Their voice, their views, their requirements must be heard in equal proportion to the workers you meet every day. Only by ensuring they are fully integrated, engaged and considered will you be able to ensure not just their needs and safety are met but also maintain and improve productivity levels across the whole of the organisation.

Download our Employee Tracking Product Sheet

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