Business News

Flexibility in the workplace – why it’s good for employers and employees

By Business & Finance
03 August 2018

In the Employee Experience series, sponsored by Irish Life, we look at the most important initiatives for employee health and wellbeing. Flexible working is becoming ever more popular – but does it pay off?


Employers are realising that getting the job done is more important than clocking in

Some people are morning people, many are not. We all have a time of day when we feel most productive, when our brain is firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately that golden hour doesn’t necessarily fall into the same time frame as standard office hours, but increasingly employees are being given the option to work to schedules that are better suited to their individual rhythms.

Flexibility in the workplace is becoming more and more important, to meet both the needs of individuals, and of businesses. It can mean making changes to the time, location or manner in which an employee carries out their work, or over the longer term, career flexibility can involve lateral movements within the company or career breaks.

According to the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College:

Flexibility should be mutually beneficial to both the employer and employee and result in superior outcomes.” Flexible practices have evolved over time to meet the needs of both employers and employees – helping employers to retain and maintain an effective and productive workforce, and allowing employees to have a better work-life balance.

Forms of flexibility

Flexibility can take many forms. It can mean job sharing or reduced hours for new parents, flexible working hours or remote working to ease the time travel load for those with long commutes. Digital transformation, super fast broadband, and cloud storage capabilities allow people to work from literally anywhere with an internet connection.

Flexibility may be formal – written into HR policy and contracts – or informal, at the discretion of line managers. In a survey conducted by JP Morgan Chase in the US, it was found that 95% of employees working in an environment where the manager is sensitive to work and personal life feel motivated to exceed expectations, compared to 80% of employees in environments where the manager is not sensitive to needs for informal or discretionary flexibility.

There are many wins for organisations that implement flexible policies, notably in recruitment and retention, as it leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction, lower stress levels, and greater commitment and productivity.

Studies have proven that businesses which offer workplace flexibility have lower levels of absenteeism and higher levels of engagement. The best and brightest people want to be treated like adults and want to work at companies that have empathetic and progressive cultures. Employees, when made to feel trusted and given autonomy feel more valued and invested in their work and in the organisation. 

At the end of the day, the benefits will become visible on the bottom line, with happy employees leading to happy customers, increased profits and a better return for shareholders.

Flexibility and diversity

Flexbility is crucial for companies such as LinkedIn which are making it part of their policy to encourage people back into the workforce. LinkedIn launched a programme called ReturnIn last year, aimed at easing the transition for people who had been out of the workplace for a long period. Another technology company eBecs offers the flexibility for their employees to work from home anywhere within Ireland. They also run a returnship programme reaches out to those who perhaps have significant business skills, but have been unemployed for at least 18 months, giving them a chance to re-enter the jobs market.

A survey of workers at Bristol-Myers Squibb found that flexible working arrangements were most important to female employees, underlining the symbiotic relationship between flexibility and workplace diversity: 78% of women said it is ‘very important’ to their staying with the company, compared to 65% of men. The retention effect is especially strong for women in management: 84% said informal flexibility helped keep them at the company.

While flexibility is hugely important to working parents, it must be implemented with caution by employers, especially when on an informal basis – it’s important that there isn’t preferential treatment. While the commitments of parenthood are essential, employees who do not have children should not be expected to take up the slack or made feel that there is an expectation on them to give up their free time or work longer hours. The same flexibility should be offered across the board, where it is achievable within the particular role.

Workplace flexibility, done right, opens up an unplumbed pool of talent. It not only creates opportunities for those who would struggle with strict 9-5 workdays because of family commitments, but it opens up a global pool of talent, rather than just local or regional. With intranets, teleconferencing and cloud storage, the distance between teams is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and the ways in which we work less important than the final result.

The Employee Experience Award sponsored by Irish Life will be held in October and nominations are open now. Categories include: Diversity, War for Talent, Agile Working and the overall Employee Experience Award. If you wish to nominate your company please fill in a very short questionnaire here.