What are the benefits of flexible working?
A recent report revealed almost three quarters of UK employees aged 55 or over reported in a survey that they either already work flexibly or want to.
Our Senior Programme Manager, Patrick Thomson, writes about how flexible working gives employers and workers more choices at a time when options are limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The way we work now feels less flexible than ever
Choice and control are integral to our wellbeing at work, but the impact of COVID-19 has limited this for millions. For many, retirement feels further away – this month saw changes to the state pension age, rising to 66 for both men and women for the first time. For those physically in a workplace, there are restrictions – masks, one-way systems, and distanced workstations. For those working from home – the Rule of Six and local lockdowns limit opportunities for social connections that many of us value from work, that can’t quite be filled by a Zoom quiz.
The oldest and youngest workers have seen the biggest drop in employment. Savings and earnings have been hit, with a third of older workers reporting a worse financial situation. These changes are leading many people in their 50s and 60s to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. COVID-19 has changed the retirement plans of one in eight older workers. Some have been forced out of work earlier than they might have liked, others see positives in the new circumstances, with home working and a reduced commute making working longer more appealing
Given the physical restrictions on home and work life, the need for flexibility in how we work is greater than ever
Employers and workers have had sudden changes forced upon them by world events. We are six months into new ways of working, and the Prime Minister recently announced that the latest restrictions are expected to last for at least six more. So far it has been about workplaces rapidly adapting, pivoting, getting by. Now we need to think longer term about how to make it work as best we can.
A quarter of over 50s don’t have a good understanding of the different flexible working options in their organisation.
There is no quick fix, but we do have some of the answers
Flexible working (working more, less, or differently) is the number one workplace factor that over 50s themselves say would help them be in better work for longer. To support work-life balance, caring or health needs, or just to make work more sustainable.
While people of all ages want flexible working, not everyone feels they have access to it. One quarter (24%) of over 50s don’t have a good understanding of the different flexible working options in their organisation. Nearly a third of over 50s don’t realise they have the right to request flexible working and almost a quarter aren’t comfortable asking
Partnering with flexible working experts Timewise, we have completed an 18-month project to pilot, test and learn how to make practical changes to support better flexible working for over 50s. Our toolkit outlines practical steps to develop a business case, assess current processes, and design new ones.
A line manager taking part in the pilot highlighted the benefit to the business of supporting over 50s workers:
“Their experience, acumen, networks, level of professionalism, technical knowledge and mature thinking – it’s too valuable to risk losing. We need to find ways that help older staff manage their personal and work commitments.”
This matters now more than ever
We are at a tipping point with many businesses making decisions about how they will work in the future.
ONS’s latest business tracker showed that 19% of businesses intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward compared to 67% who intend to go back to their old ways. Those who intend to continue with homeworking do so for improved staff wellbeing, reduced overheads and increased productivity.
These are big decisions and will depend on specific sectors, workforces and further developments as the impacts of the pandemic play out.
Employers must get the balance right to boost staff loyalty and engagement, and help people do their jobs. We know that flexible working can be one of the biggest factors in retaining the knowledge, skills and know-how of our most experienced workers, and will be an essential tool to address the challenges that many employers now face.