A recent survey from coaching organisation Women Returners revealed that 87 per cent of women returning from a career break want the option to work flexibly. The figure makes for interesting reading at a time of declining candidate availability, and with demand for staff growing at the fastest rate since 2015.
Businesses are on the lookout for top talent, and often women returning from career breaks will be armed with the necessary experience and skillset. The onus is therefore on businesses to ensure that their working patterns are flexible enough to accommodate every type of jobseeker.
The Women Returners research tallies with our own findings on the appeal of flexible work to today’s workforce. Our survey of more than 2,000 UK professionals revealed that, if faced with two similar job offers, nine out of 10 workers would choose the company offering flexible working. Further, more than half of UK professionals would actively change their current job if one with more flexible working was offered.
Flexible working should not be confused with part-time working. What these return-to-work women are looking for is the freedom to fit the working day around their lifestyles. They want the flexibility to work nearer to home, to adapt start and finish times and to manage their own work-life balance more effectively.
Importantly, working flexibly does not mean working in isolation. Co-working is one of the biggest workplace trends of the moment, describing a workspace that is occupied by individuals from several companies and that encourages networking and collaboration. Such spaces provide all the social buzz of an office without restricting employees to fixed hours and routines. These are environments specifically created to foster innovation and drive productivity, with employee wellbeing firmly to the fore when it comes to aesthetic design decisions and the inclusion of communal areas such as cafes, bars and activity-led breakout areas
The UK boasts one of the best networks of professional workspace, with flexible work options now available in most large towns and cities. However, according to our same research, just 7 per cent of UK firms say they are seeing more mums return to the workplace than last year.
The challenge for employers is not so much logistical. Rather, it is attitudinal – a change in mindset is needed, from measuring performance by visibility and time spent at the desk, to measuring it by output and results. This may require employers to make changes to reporting structures and to adopt new management techniques. It is about placing more trust in the hands of the employee, showing confidence in their professionalism and flexing the job around the person rather than asking the person to fit an outdated and rigid structure.
The financial and logistical benefits of working flexibly are convincing, but forward-thinking business owners see well beyond these advantages. Attitudes are changing and companies are championing working structures that aim first to attract the very best employees, and then to get the best work from each individual.
Clearly, the option to work more flexibly is a major draw for top professionals, and particularly for women returning from a career break. Businesses recognising this fact – and moving away from old-fashioned work routines – will stand out from competitors as these talented individuals seek their next career move.
Richard Morris is UK CEO of Spaces