Two thirds of businesses prefer to let employees choose their working hours, study finds

Employers generally open to various forms of flexible working as most believe it is crucial when competing for talent

Credit: Tom Werner/Getty Images

Allowing staff to choose their working hours has been revealed as the most popular form of flexible working, with 58 per cent of businesses allowing for this, research has found.

The Future World of Work report, which was produced by Sonovate, polled 4,000 people and 500 small and medium-sized business owners, and interviewed senior thought leaders from the future of work, employment and fintech sectors to explore what flexibility means to businesses and workers throughout the UK.

It revealed that more than two thirds of employers (67 per cent) believe that offering flexibility is crucial when it comes to competing for people with the most sought-after skills, while seven in 10 (70 per cent) businesses said the most skilled people ‘know their worth’ and will only work under conditions that suit them.

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To offer such flexibility, the study found that the majority (58 per cent) of leaders tend to accept workers’ requests to move from permanent to temporary contracts, while 56 per cent would allow employees to choose which, or how many, days they work, and 54 per cent would allow for an enforced partial work from home policy.

Echoing the findings of the report, Helen Astill, HR services director at HR Solutions, said that for many people flexibility is just as important as the financial package. “The change to working from home during the pandemic meant that many people adopted a lifestyle that now cannot be accommodated by a standard 9am to 5pm working day in an office,” she said, adding that “childcare, eldercare and even looking after new pets” mean that many have no desire to be away from home all day.

Under the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, recently introduced by the UK government, employees would be legally entitled to request flexible working from day one of their employment rather than having to pass 26 weeks’ service, as part of government plans to make flexible working the default.

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Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said the potential introduction of the new law meant that “the spotlight has firmly been placed on flexible working”, adding that as the skills shortage continues, despite the worsening economic outlook, “[businesses] that are able to offer flexible working opportunities are likely to put themselves in a much stronger position when it comes to attracting and retaining employees”.

For this reason, she advised organisations to handle flexible working requests from staff carefully, ensuring that they have “enough resources to respond to flexible working requests in a timely manner, working alongside line managers, to see what arrangements might be possible”.

Reflecting on government policy restrictions, Rebecca Seeley Harris, specialist legal consultant at Re: Legal Consulting, said that being able to access a wider pool of talent, where an individual is abroad, for example, “would help businesses a lot, but there is currently a lot of red tape”.

The current legislation “does not make it easy at all to employ or engage workers abroad, and this also depends on whether the worker is a UK resident for tax purposes or not and whether they are going to be treated as employed or self-employed”, she said, adding that currently “the worldwide tax system isn’t set up for digital or tax nomads because you have to be resident in one tax jurisdiction to pay tax somewhere”.

A recent DocuSign survey of 450 business decision makers from all sectors also found that four in five (82 per cent) employers believe offering staff flexibility in where and when they work is important in attracting and retaining talent to meet future business needs.