Four in five UK business leaders believe flexible working is critical to success, research finds

Yet experts say despite incoming legislative changes more needs to be done to make flexibility equitable and productive

Credit: Grinvalds/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Four in five (82 per cent) employers believe offering employees flexibility in where and when they work is essential in attracting and retaining talent to meet future business needs, new research has found.

DocuSign’s survey of 450 business decision makers from across all sectors found that three quarters (75 per cent) of respondents think offering flexibility delivers a competitive advantage, with four in five stating it is critical to their future success.

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In the survey more than half of business leaders (56 per cent) said recruitment and talent were their current main priorities, which, Gary Cookson, director of Epic HR, explained means organisations should consider how to better use flexibility to meet hiring needs. “Flexible working, among other things, is often cited as one of the benefits people are looking for from an employer, so they must consider anything and everything they can to stand out and be competitive within the labour market,” he said.

The government recently announced new legislation that will give employees the right to ask for flexible working from day one, rather than having to wait 26 weeks.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said businesses should also start building flexible-ready workplaces and “start to normalise the conversation [around flexibility]” to make it an equity-building tool. “Employers should also look to train their line managers in how to support flexible teams through building cultures of trust and measuring performance by outcomes,” said McCartney. 

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Yet, despite upcoming legislative changes around flexibility, less than half (47 per cent) of employers cited being equipped to enable their employees to be able to work successfully from anywhere. 

Although more than half (54 per cent) of the survey respondents have invested in physical employee infrastructure over the last two years to underpin flexible working, Cookson added that “technology can help greatly” in making flexible working productive and fair. “It provides the opportunity to contribute asynchronously, and in many cases without being physically seen, which can also help to minimise the risk of bias in how such contributions, and by extension the employees, are perceived,” he explained.

He added that businesses should also consider becoming flexible by default, moving away from traditional working hours contracts, using data to improve flexible outcomes, and iterating their processes on the journey towards delivering a better, more inclusive flexible employment. 

Gemma Dale, senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said employers also needed to work to overcome the stigma attached to flexible work, as “the evidence tells us that flexible workers will be promoted less and rewarded less”. “Until we can tackle that attitude, flexible workers (whether location or schedule flexible) will always lose out,” she added.