Despite an increase of 1.3 million flexible workers in the UK since 2011, untapped appetite for further flexibility exists. Young workers, women and blue-collar workers are least likely to enjoy flexibility under current working arrangements. Contributor Erik Fjellborg, CEO and Founder – Quinyx.
The UK could risk £12 billion a year in economic output, if employers do not fully embrace flexibility, a new study has revealed. The report, developed by workforce management expert Quinyx in collaboration with Development Economics and Censuswide, maps existing workforce trends and worker sentiment to estimate the potential scale and output of flexible working in the UK in the future.
The research found that, despite an increase in flexible working in the UK in recent years, the level of dissatisfaction among UK workers around the flexibility of their current working arrangements is high – meaning there is untapped demand for flexible working.
Quinyx calculated that by embracing and implementing more flexible working arrangements in the future, UK businesses could generate an output of £570 billion per year through flexible working by 2023. This is compared to an output of £558 billion per year if existing flexible working trends continued. The additional output would be garnered through factors such as reduction of staff churn and higher productivity – thanks to working schedules being tailored to employees, and workers being happier and more motivated as a result.
While ONS statistics show that an additional 1.3 million workers enjoyed flexible working arrangements in 2017 compared to 2011, 73 percent say they still face issues when it comes to flexibility in their current work schedules. 15 percent of UK workers say that a lack of flexibility sometimes makes them feel isolated from friends and family, while one in ten say it is having or has had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Nearly a fifth of UK workers say that they would be more productive if given more flexible working opportunities.
Erik Fjellborg, CEO and Founder of Quinyx, comments: “Widening skills gaps, a lag in productivity and Brexit on the horizon mean British businesses are struggling to find, hire and retain the workers they need. Flexible working is an untapped solution to the UK’s biggest business challenges: the more employees are able to choose the right schedule for them, the happier – and therefore more productive – they’ll be. But, it’s clear that the current mindset needs to change. Flexibility does not need to mean increased costs and logistical nightmares; in fact, with the right tools in place, it’s simple and economical. And by increasing flexibility, employers will give workers a voice and a choice, ultimately increasing productivity, retention and their overall performance.”
The research also found that special attention needs to be paid to some of the most flexibly disadvantaged groups, including women, younger workers and blue-collar workers.
Flexitime arrangements are well below the national average among caring & leisure, elementary occupations and process & plant operatives – typically blue-collar workers. Of the managers, directors and senior officials who work flexibly, 61 percent have a formal flexitime contract – compared to just 21 percent of flexible workers in elementary occupations.
For women and younger workers, zero-hours contracts dominate the flexible working landscape. Between 2011 and 2017, zero-hours contracts in the UK increased by 674 percent, with prevalence among women and the under 20s. Meanwhile, an increase in formal flexitime arrangements in recent years has been largely enjoyed by men rather than women – with the latter fuelling 71 percent of this growth. And, only one in four of those working flexibly under the age of 20 enjoy flexitime arrangements, compared to a 42 percent average.
Erik continues: “Whether male or female, young or old, with a bar or boardroom as an office, everyone should be offered fair and flexible work. While zero-hours contracts work for some, many of the other formal flexible working arrangements that are currently in place are for men in white collar industries. This means that women, youth, and blue-collar workers are often left behind. It is essential that business leaders and managers address this and “unforget” this previously forgotten workforce. That’s why we’re calling on employers across the UK to work with all their staff to better understand and implement the flexibility that’s right for them.”
The research also uncovered barriers for achieving greater flexibility. Two thirds of UK workers (67 percent) say they face barriers when it comes to achieving greater flexibility at work, with the employer reactions top of their concerns. 16 percent of workers say that their manager would react badly to a request for greater flexibility, with another 15 percent worrying that it would negatively impact their career progression.
One third of UK workers (32 percent) believe that the best way of encouraging businesses to increase flexibility is through incentives such as tax breaks, followed by new technologies allowing business schedules to be viewed, managed and shared through an app.