When the government first introduced emergency measures during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees came to enjoy the flexibility that remote working brought to their working lives and some proved to their employers that remote working could be a success. As a result, there has been a seismic shift in attitudes towards working practices as we move into a post-pandemic world.
The ‘Great Resignation’ was the workplace phenomenon of 2021. In the UK, following analysis undertaken by Deutsche Bank, it was reported that the number of resignations was at its highest point since 2009. One theory on what contributed to the Great Resignation is centred around how flexible working became part of the norm during the pandemic. The forced move to remote working created opportunities previously not available to employees. Employees became willing to leave existing roles for ones that offered greater flexibility to have access to more, or even better, roles.
This change in working attitudes was reflected in the government’s consultation paper on the proposed changes to the flexible working regime, published on 23 September 2021. Key proposals include allowing employees to submit flexible working requests from day one of employment and removing the limit on the number of requests that an employee can make in a 12-month period.
With this in mind, the government is exploring ways to improve the flexible working regime and some employees are willing to move roles to gain greater flexibility. All of this means an upheaval in the job market. Time, effort and money go into attaining and retaining talent. So, what flexible working practices can employers consider, to help attract, retain and promote an inclusive and stable workforce?
While the model of a four-day week is not novel, the campaign for shorter working weeks has picked up pace since the pandemic. A six-month piloting scheme is currently underway by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with others. The pilot is said to ask participants to maintain 100 per cent productivity at 80 per cent of the normal time, without any impact on pay.
The results of the trial are yet to be seen, however, similar trials have been undertaken in countries such as Iceland and there are perceived benefits. If they work, a four-day week without a pay cut could be an appealing option for those seeking greater flexibility in their working week, particularly parents and caregivers who will be enabled to better meet their caring responsibilities. This model can offer all employees (including those with disabilities) a chance to focus on their wellbeing, whether that takes the form of reducing commuting days or exercising during more sociable hours, or attending necessary appointments.
However, some employers, particularly in service based professions have raised concerns about the suitability of such a model where clients, for example, may not be willing to work with a provider operating a four-day week.
Full-time remote working is perceived to offer some employees a better work-life balance and employers significant cost savings in terms of office space and other overheads. Removing commuting time and being home can amount to more time to spend with family and friends, better opportunities to undertake exercise at convenient times, greater flexibility in attending healthcare appointments and a better means of meeting care obligations for parents and carers. Whereas, often geographical factors are interwoven with socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicity, remote working has been perceived to widen opportunities for employees previously limited by geography. However, it will not be suitable for all workplaces.
Not all employees want to adopt a completely remote working practice and not all want a full return to the office. The Office for National Statistics reported mid-last year that (at the time) 85 per cent of working adults who were working from home wanted a hybrid working model. Some of the younger demographic may enjoy the return to the office to learn from and meet colleagues while enjoying the benefits flexibility brings and some of the older demographic may enjoy the opportunity to impart knowledge on those coming up the ranks while lessening their commuting days. There are perceptions that adopting a hybrid model may help retain all ages in the workforce, while also allowing organisations to create greater collaboration and better instil their cultural values.
Deloitte has recently announced plans to introduce a flexible public holiday policy, whereby UK staff can decide when to take public holidays as annual leave. The ability to take public holidays closely linked to the UK/Christian calendar at another time of the year, perhaps during another religious festival, could further attract a more diverse workforce.
While flexible working practices are not appropriate for all business models, where it is suitable for an organisation, certain flexible initiatives should be considered by employers because they may go the distance in attracting and retaining the best talent and in having an inclusive and diverse workforce.
Moira Campbell is a senior associate and Jess Rice a trainee solicitor at Kingsley Napley