Flexible working is fast becoming an expected benefit for many employees, rather than the ‘nice to have’ it once was. Rising costs of childcare are leading to parents and even grandparents needing to adapt their working hours around their life. At the same time, many of those just entering the workforce are finding the idea of a traditional 9-5 job outdated and are seeking a more fulfilling work-life balance.
It’s estimated that failure to provide flexible working options costs the UK economy £62.5bn. So rather than just being a benefit regarding employee happiness, it can also translate into missed potential for businesses.
Most companies are looking at how they can make flexible working suit both their employees and their business needs. Two key elements determining the success or failure of a flexible working programme are trust and accuracy.
A two-way street of trust
In any employment situation, there is an element of trust between the two parties involved. The employer trusts that the employee will work the hours they have been asked to do, whilst the worker trusts that they will be fairly recompensed for this. This works well when employees are visible, in an office or on a shop floor. In some organisations, this may involve clocking-in, so any discrepancies in this can be quickly taken into account when it comes to pay.
For employees working flexibly from home or elsewhere, however, the faith employers and their workforce place in each other can come more starkly into focus. If an employee leaves the office at 3pm to pick up their children, saying they’ll continue working after the children have gone to bed, can the employer be sure they’ll do so? And if an employee takes longer than expected inputting data, how will they know that they’ll be paid for the extra time?
Even for those employees whose job requires them to be present, flexible working can stretch the trust between them and their managers. An employee who needs every Tuesday off to plug their childcare gap will quickly become frustrated when they’re repeatedly asked to come in at the last-minute due to rota mistakes.
It’s in these situations when the all-important trust between employer and employee gets tested, leading to low workforce morale, decreased up-take of overtime and, in a worst-case scenario, termination of employment.
Accurate data as a builder of trust
This is where trustworthy, accurate and easily visible data can help maintain strong and healthy professional relationships. A remote worker who can clock-in and out on their smartphone is much more likely to volunteer to put in extra hours at home, as they know they’ll see their overtime rewarded in their pay packet.
For managers too, easy access to data makes their lives a lot easier when it comes to organising flexible workers. A factory manager, who has full visibility of his workforce, can make better decisions about allocating resources. This ensures not only that they have enough staff on the shop floor, but also that employee flexible working needs are constantly and consistently respected. Employees who feel that their needs are understood and considered by their employer are more likely to be happy, productive and loyal.
Flexible working is here to stay, so businesses need to make sure that their HR systems are best adapted to accommodate their workforce’s changing expectations – or risk losing their employees to other businesses who already have.
Jon Gilbert is a manager at NGA Human Resources.