February 08, 2023

Towards an even more flexible workplace?

The launch in December 2021 of new guidance on hybrid working from the Flexible Working Taskforce reinforces that the way we work is likely to be permanently changed. Are employers now beginning to approach hybrid, or blended working with a more positive approach embracing its potential benefits, and is that being extended to a more flexible approach generally to working hours, holidays and other benefits? And are employers now thinking outside the box of conventional 9-5 physical presenteeism and traditional benefits?

Research into hybrid working by Gallup, Harvard and Stanford Universities and Global Workplace Analytics has shown that workplace flexibility increases the bottom line in five areas: Productivity, Performance, Lower Absenteeism, Retention and Profitability. It’s also the case that in a tight recruitment market, where job-seekers can afford to be more discerning in their choices, looking at incentivising the packages on offer (and not just the money on offer) is what can make an employer stand out from the crowd.

Hybrid working arrangements, where they can be accommodated, are certainly here to stay. Staff engagement and work/life balance can be improved with hybrid working, which in turn may help with the recruitment and retention issues many employers are currently facing. Certainly, many staff who want remote working do enjoy a better work/life balance and it seems that there is evidence productivity can increase as a direct result of this flexibility. 

However, the Flexible Working Taskforce says it’s important to remember that hybrid working arrangements will not work well for every industry, role or individual. Indeed, there is a lot to consider to ensure successful hybrid working arrangements, such as contract changes, policy development, management training, the cost and purchasing of equipment and compliance with health and safety obligations.

Another trend we are seeing is towards greater flexibility and employee autonomy in working hours. It was recently reported that one of the large City law firms was considering shifting away from traditional time recording and abolishing the billable hours approach.

We also know an accountancy practice has successfully introduced core working hours with extended flexible breaks to give employees more control over when they work. This demonstrates that long-established practices are now coming under scrutiny.

Other changes that are being introduced are in respect of holidays. Buying additional holiday (and selling excess holiday) policies have been around for some time now, but more employers are considering extending this is to offering unlimited holidays. Seemingly a welcome initiative amongst employees, and attractive to new recruits, it remains to be seen whether this results in staff taking more time off in the longer term as past experiences with this has not supported that happening. However, it may transpire to be a flexible benefit which seems very attractive to employees but in reality, employers can offer it at little cost or exposure. Again, key to a successful roll-out of unlimited holiday will be the introduction of policies to ensure that leave is taken responsibly and in line with operational, delivery and performance requirements. It will also be necessary to ensure that holiday continues to be measured and monitored for health and safety reasons. Research has found that employees can tend to take fewer holidays as a result of concerns about presenteeism and anxiety around taking what may amount to too much holiday!

There is also the option of a fully flexible benefits package, allowing employees to select from a comprehensive choice of benefits to suit their personal circumstances, ensuring they receive something beneficial to them personally. This is not something that is new to larger employers, but it is being increasingly being considered as a way to retain and recruit staff by SMEs. While it’s sensible to retain core benefits, it does mean employers can offer a wider range of wellbeing services such as access to an online GP service or free/discounted gym membership, private medical and dental insurance, bicycle loans/cycle to work schemes. Generic benefits packages rarely work for all employees in an organisation as everyone will have different needs and wishes dependent on where they are in their personal and work lives. Some benefits can be offered under a salary exchange arrangement which increases their attractiveness for both employees and employers. For example, we have recently been working with a client who is introducing an electric vehicle salary sacrifice scheme for their staff.

If you are an employer thinking of transitioning towards even more flexibility in the workplace there is some critical thinking to be donebefore launching any initiative. Don’t make assumptions that your staff will share the same views as you. 

Staff surveys are an excellent way to find out your team’s views but also a fantastic tool to show you value and care about their views too. We know this because that’s the feedback our 
HR Consultants receive when they do surveys for our clients. Use the survey to find out if these benefits will actually be valued by the employees. 

Finally, make sure if you do make changes that your policies are clear so that everyone knows what the rules are and make sure you have taken a consistent approach towards everyone.

Pam Loch, Employment Solicitor and Managing Director, 
Loch Associates Group

Get in touch if you need any assistance 
E: pam.loch@lochassociates.co.uk

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