Shelley Snelson is director of Flexology, a Bristol-based flexible working consultancy and recruitment agency, which works with businesses and candidates to attract talented candidates into flexible working positions.
Shelley is a qualified chartered accountant (ACA) with over 16 years’ experience of leading large operational and client facing teams and investment decisions across professional services, banking and other industry sectors.
There is a growing focus on flexible working, as employers start to recognise its benefits in attracting and retaining talented employees. Although most organisations already offer some sort of flexible working, it can come in many varieties, both part and full-time. Access these different types may not be available to all. So, what is currently being offered and who is it appealing to? And how could different types of flexible working packages help develop your teams and your business?
What do people want?
Flexible working should no longer be viewed as a women’s issue, or even just about parents. The Modern Families Index found that 29 per cent of people who currently work flexibly do so “in order to pursue hobbies or other interests”.
As society begins to understand more about the importance of work-life balance, the causes of stress, the value of exercise and hobbies and so on, we are starting to realise that work isn’t everything. In fact, working too much, or in a way that doesn’t fit with our lives, is both mentally and physically unhealthy.
However, there is currently a marked disparity in the flexibility requested by men and women, with men often looking to preserve their full-time hours, whilst introducing flexibility into their working week, for example the ability to drop-off or pick-up their kids, compressed hours or remote work. Women are much more likely to want reduced hours, with a three day week by far the favourite option.
There is a chicken and egg scenario here. The current average weighting of parental responsibilities falls mainly on the female carer, with the Fatherhood Institute’s Fairness in Families Index reporting that for every hour of childcare that mothers do, father do just 24 minutes. However, often men still feel discouraged from asking for a flexible schedule or shared parental leave, with those that do being the exception rather than the norm.
Also, it’s not just parents that may want reduced hours. Retirement age is getting later, as people have a higher life expectancy and older people find themselves with an inadequate pension and costs of supporting their family. Statistics released by the Department of Work and Pensions show that more than one in 10 men are now working beyond the age of 70 and 8 per cent of women are also working beyond this threshold.
What is being offered?
The most prevalent flexible roles are those based around an 80 per cent or more Full Time Equivalent week, as these require the least change to the standard working framework and business operations. If someone is working four or five days per week, they are often covering a full-time role in a very similar way to an office based, full time member of staff. The company will have made some adaptation to allow elements of flexible working, such as: a home/office split; compressed hours; early or late starts or finishes; or a reduced 80 per cent contract. However, the role will be essentially the same. The company, meanwhile, will enjoy many of the benefits of offering flexible work with minimal change to its status quo.
However, such roles will not materially promote gender diversity or support the older worker. With the increased focus on gender pay gap reporting and the lack of women in senior positions, it is important to help women to stay in the career ladder (or tree) during the years when they may have increased caring responsibilities. Currently, our review of this week’s job boards shows that fewer than five per cent of roles are advertised at less than full time hours. This clearly needs to change and more roles need to be offered at hours below the 80 per cent FTE mark.
How to bridge the gap
There are a few easy ways to bridge the gap and offer more flexible roles:
- Job-sharing. Allowing two people to work three days per week each, to share a full-time role, can be an easy way to cover a full-time position with minimal change.
- Up-skilling. Allowing a full-time more junior member of staff to “act up” a couple of days per week, to support a senior member of staff working a reduced week, can be a great way to develop your team.
- Try it! Next time you have a role that is hard to recruit, or a valued team member who is requesting a reduced working week, try offering a 60 per cent contract and see the value it brings your business.
Earlier in the month we published an article from Shelley’s colleague on the subject of How Flexible Working Could Address the Gender Imbalance in Senior Roles.