Are the days of office based 9:00 to 5:00 over?

In the YouGov survey of almost 1200 working adults, 27 per cent of those aged between 45 and 54 complained that their employers gave staff with family responsibilities preferential treatment when it comes to flexible working requests. Goes to show that quite a few of us would appreciate a few less hours in the office in exchange for less pay or an option to work remotely.

Why don’t employers offer flexible working to all staff then? My experience shows that a great deal of employers are afraid they would not be able to meet customer demands and work as efficiently should work patterns differ from the traditional office based 9 to 5. The employers are afraid of potential damaging effects and a cost of operating a working arrangement, which in the longer run may turn out not scalable or detrimental to the business. They also struggle to see the benefits of rolling out flexible working to all staff. So what are the potential benefits of making flexible working available to all?

The main benefit to employers would be staff engagement and retention. It is a no brainer: if your employer makes life easier for you, you appreciate that and make more effort for your employer in return. Social exchange is what makes it work. This exchange mechanism is built into our system; under normal circumstances we subconsciously aim to equalise the balance of what we received by giving back.

Flexible working can also give an organisation a competitive advantage – if your business offers similar pay but better working arrangements than your competitor why would the best talent want to work for them?

If flexible working involves remote working and an organisation has also gone paperless to enable full access to all documentation online, remote working may actually substantially improve work output. Make it easy for people to do the work and more work will be done.

With remote working the whole notion of a local labour market becomes irrelevant as talent can be sourced from all over the globe.
There are benefits to the economy as well. At the times when so many young people struggle to find employment wouldn’t it be a good idea to allow those who want to work less have a work life balance and create some new vacancies this way?

Theoretically flexible working is a great idea. However, the fear of making things too hard for the employers made the government shed its plans to extend the right to request flexible working, including reduced hours, to all employees. So is it really such an organisational burden to implement flexible working? It all depends on the organisation; some cultures and industries may be better suited for this type of working than others. In essence, it is like any other project – will turn out successful if well managed.

So what is the future of 9:00-5:00? Let’s hope the employers will pick up from where the government left off. The more employers offer flexible working to all staff voluntarily the more inclined may the government be to leave things unregulated. Extending the right to request flexible working to all staff would impact not only on working practices. The whole new array of discrimination claims could possibly be brought against the employers should flexible working become a universal employment right. It is definitely not in employers’ interest to have another piece of legislation of such proportions to deal with. Will the employers move on with the times then? Only the time will show…

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