The Centre for Transformative Work Design recently partnered with a government organisation to investigate the effects of flexible working on employees. The organisation is undergoing planned change and wanted to determine whether flexible working would improve the work design, well-being, and retention of staff. Employees were given the opportunity to work from home for some days each week. We tracked participant responses across time and conducted more in-depth interviews to understand how flexible working impacted participants.
Our interviewees were particularly positive about the experience, citing improved autonomy, work/life balance, performance and concentration due to the ability to control work hours, eradicate stressful commutes, and avoid colleague disruptions. Despite geographical distance, effective communication was maintained in their team through the use of Skype and a pre-ordained day each week when all team members were in the office and meetings could occur. Importantly, participants reported being more likely to stay working for the organisation if flexible working was adopted permanently.
A recent study reported in the Financial Times online (Jun 28, 2018) concurs with our findings, observing that workplaces which did not offer flexible working risked losing employees, particularly mothers of young children and millennials. Moreover, a newly released government report (2018) into the future of work also supports this view, and highlights that flexible working is under-utilised by certain employee populations such as leaders, managers, and men. In particular, this report promotes the use of flexible working for people with disabilities who may face barriers to work.
While flexible working no doubt improves job autonomy for some people, we noted that it may not suit all workers in all job roles, including parents. Our interviewees believed that it may be difficult for those with children to work from home due to the short school day and the potential for constant interruptions. Manager – employee relations and communication may also suffer if managers and employees are less visible and available to each other, which may explain why the government report found flexible working to be under-utilised by this group. Finally, those who live alone may risk social isolation if they choose to work from home, which can impact psychological well-being.
In sum, if applied flexibly according to individual needs and desires, flexible working can offer many positive benefits for work design, well-being, performance and retention. In accordance with the government’s recommendations, smart organisations may wish to offer flexible working for a smarter, healthier, inclusive workforce.
De Vita, E. (Jun 28, 2018). Flexible working: here’s what employees want. FT.com; London