Although the concept of flexible working hours has been around since the 1970s, it was rare for employees to be able to take advantage of them then. Today, however, things have changed for the better. According to the OECD, between 50 and 90% of employees in Europe now benefit from flexible working practices, with the majority of European employees (3 out of 4 on average) having access to some work-schedule flexibility.
Different companies now offer employees a wide variety of flexible work options, from fully- or partially-remote telecommuting, customized office hours to suit individual needs (e.g. working four 10-hour days rather than five 8-hour days), part-time schedules consisting of fewer weekly hours, or even job-sharing teams where two employees perform a single job.
And it’s a good thing, because people want to work flexibly: a survey by XpertHR research of 229 organizations employing more than 246,000 people reports that more than half of all employees are now asking for flexible working solutions.
XpertHR managing editor Sheila Attwood said: “Flexible working can help make the most of today’s diverse workforce and reduce skills shortages”, but she also warned that implementing flexwork programs will bring about certain difficulties, such as scheduling conflicts and employee envy. “Companies offering flexible working must have robust policies and processes to overcome these challenges and ensure it is business as usual.”
How flextime benefits employees
A better work-life balance is probably the greatest benefit of flextime. Employees can have all sorts of complications in their personal lives that conflict with a classic 9-to-5 workday. Some might have to coordinate childcare or after-school timetables. Being able to come to work earlier and leave earlier to pick up their children could be life-enhancing. Others might be going back to school or have ongoing medical appointments that require specially-adapted schedules.
Another great benefit of flextime is enabling employees to avoid rush hours. Any opportunity to avoid sitting in traffic is desirable for employees with long commutes. This perk, which costs the company nothing, can keep highly qualified employees from looking for positions closer to home.
And frankly, not every employee is equipped with a 9-to-5 mindset. Flextime is ideal for those employees who work best at atypical times of the day – the night owls and the crack-of-dawners.
Finally, there’s the obvious “happiness benefit”. Employees who are able to work at their optimum rhythms are healthier, happier, less stressed, and more likely to be productive, innovative, and bring more rewards to the company.
How flextime benefits businesses
Employers who offer flexible hours to employees benefit from a broader talent pool, as their reach instantly becomes global. They enjoy enhanced branding, as offering flexible workplace policies show potential employees that their organizations are committed to helping people achieve a better work-life balance.
Offers of flextime also boost employee retention, improve engagement and loyalty, diminish absenteeism, and increase productivity. They also impact overhead costs and save money by reducing office space requirements, says Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, while also cutting a company’s carbon footprint.
In fact, Branson believes that the benefits of flexible work are endless and is optimistic about the future of this work style. “Whilst the pace of change may be slower than I’d like,” he says, “the growth in the number of forward-looking employers means the workplace is finally starting to catch up.
“So if you want to find, attract and keep the best employees, you need to build flexible working and flexible hiring into your talent strategy. This means making it clear in your job adverts that you are open to flexible working.” Branson also says that flexwork isn’t just for low-level employees: it should be offered for positions higher up in the pipeline so that “rising stars have flexible jobs to progress to.”