Harry and Meghan’s new role – The new face of workplace flexibility?

Human Resources 27th January 2020

In our last blog, we looked at the Harry & Meghan story.  Their decision to ‘step away’ from their role as ‘senior royals’ has prompted a massive debate about workplace resignations and the best way to deal with them – from the point of view of both employee and employer.

This royal story raises another issue – equally relevant in the world of HR – flexibility. The Sussex’s were hoping for greater flexibility than that which was finally agreed. But then, maybe that was their opening negotiating gambit! We’ll never know.

Flexible working by default

There’s nothing new about the idea of flexible working. In recent years, businesses have come to acknowledge the enormous value of offering alternative modes of employment. What is new, however, is the formal acknowledgement of this change in attitude from non-other than HM government. The topic was highlighted just before Christmas in the Queen’s Speech. Her Majesty announced that her government would be introducing flexible working by default unless employers have a good reason not to allow this (subject to consultation).

An unhealthy consequence?

There’s an unintended downside to flexible working. Certainly, it’s proved popular amongst office workers, but the practice appears, in many cases, to be driving up working hours – an unwelcome and unhealthy outcome. So – here’s the question – who benefits most?

In 2019, Morgan McKinley carried out a survey on flexible working. This showed that nine out of every ten UK office workers worked beyond their weekly hours. Interestingly, 55% no longer think of flexibility as an additional benefit; they now expect it as part of the job offer package.

Many professionals say they’d prefer their jobs to sync with their home lives. Consequently, in order to attract the best talent, many companies have adjusted their cultures.

Not all companies take part

Despite the recent trend towards flexible working, many companies appear to be dragging their feet. 65% of survey respondents claim that their employer offers flexibility. This leaves a substantial 35% feeling that their employer does not. It could be, of course, that, in this latter group, flexibility does exist – it’s just that the employees are not aware of the option.

Amongst those working for enlightened employers, home working is the most common form of flexibility on offer. Close behind is the option of flexible hours. Of the 65% able to work flexibly, 84% take up the opportunity. Clearly, employees value arrangements which promote a healthy work/life balance.

When asked in greater detail about the benefits of flexible working, employees identified in particular,improved staff wellbeing (43%), followed by “reduced time/spend on commuting” (30%).

The downside of flexible working

An intriguing negative amongst both employees and employers was quoted as being a “less engaged workforce”.
In spite of its general popularity, some have previously argued that those working flexibly create more work for colleagues. Others felt that flexible working tended to jeopardise their future career prospects. However, the most recent surveys suggest that these fears are now dissipating with more workers and employers alike celebrating the overall benefits. Perhaps unsurprisingly, although both sides are in favour of the practice, employees are more enthusiastic about the benefits than their bosses. 78% of workers believe that the increasing adoption of flexible working had led to a positive impact on their company’s performance and profitability. Employers agree – but only to an extent – with 57% perceiving that workplace flexibility produces long-term positively influences for their company.

It’s all about technology

Technology, it seems, is the key to sustaining an engaged, flexible workforce. We’re not talking about magnanimously handing out unlimited supplies of laptops, laptops and mobile phones. Just as important are online tools – for chat, video and virtual meetings. The integration of company systems, intranets and social platforms are also at the heart of successful flexible working. Companies also need to ensure strong levels of consistent communication and to arrange plenty of ‘team time’. This is time set aside to acknowledge and highlight the contributions that onsite flexible workers make to the success of the company.

Of course, these developments which allow employees to work from home during the hours that suit them best, mean that there has to be reasonable accountability. Clarity and transparency are critical. Everyone needs to be clear about timeframes for projects and about contactability.

Here to help

Whether all these matters were discussed at the senior Royals’ summit at Sandringham is open to question. However, the deed is now done. The parameters seem to be clear, and both sides of the Royal Family seem to have come to an arrangement that’s acceptable to all. The hope is that the flexible arrangement will be good for all sides.

As HR specialists, we understand the psychology of the workplace and how flexibility can lead to a happier workforce and enhanced productivity. Would you like to know more? We’d love to hear from you.

For straight-talking advice on all HR issues, call us – 01604 763494
Or email – info@GravitasHR.co.uk

It’s our pleasure to keep our clients happy

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