Flexible working from day 1 essential to supporting older workers
As the government consultation on proposals to reform flexible working regulations ends, we look at the case for supporting older workers’ desire for better, flexible jobs.
Flexible working has become the new norm for many of us, with people appreciating the new work life balance that it can provide. Flexible working is the key factor that enables people to work for longer and there is a high demand among older employees. That’s why we were pleased to see the government launch a consultation to make flexible working the default.
Having the right to request flexible working from day one will act as a driver to change the culture within workplaces. We hope it will encourage older workers to feel more comfortable discussing the need for flexibility and therefore broaden the roles they consider in the job market.
Pre-pandemic almost three quarters of UK employees aged 55+ reported in a survey that they either already work flexibly or wanted to. Nevertheless, a third of over 50s didn’t realise they had the right to request flexible working, and a quarter said they wouldn’t be comfortable asking.
To explore how to improve flexible working arrangements for over 50s, we worked with Timewise to run pilots with two large employers (Guys and St.Thomas’ Trust and Legal & General. This 18-month programme was designed to explore how over 50s can access the benefits of flexible working, bringing value to employers through improved employee wellbeing and motivation and, in the longer term, recruitment and retention.
An independent evaluation of the pilots by The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations found that the culture of the workplace and leadership have a huge part to play. Having an open culture with shared values means conversations could be had across the organisation.
The evaluation also found a consensus that flexible working was a good thing for all employees. Although the pilot was targeted at older workers, there was recognition that an age-sensitive approach was helpful as people experience life differently depending on their age. As older workers are less confident asking for flexible working, having a targeted approach can normalise conversations about ageing and adapting work styles.
The benefits of the pilot that job holders described included a better work-life balance, less time commuting and improved mental health. Line managers also reported greater productivity, as well as improved recruitment and retention.
At Ageing Better, we’re working with government and employers to create age-friendly working practices. We've created a practical toolkit to help employers maximise the benefits of flexible working, as the traditional 9-5 has become increasingly obsolete in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.