Imagine this: an advisor tells an employer that by introducing a new working practice, they could cut costs, reduce their carbon footprint, improve productivity and make life better for their workforce.
Should the employer listen hard, and think how to make it work for their organisation? Or should they say, “it sounds a good idea, but I’ll limit the idea to a few senior staff members”?
The practice in question is flexible working, writes Therese Meyer, Regus commercial director, Africa. A survey by global workspace provider Regus shows over four fifths of companies in South Africa now offer their staff flexible working, and 68% of businesses believe that flexible working costs less than fixed office working.
Vast numbers speak up for its benefits: seven out of 10 businesses offering flexible working report that their staff have a significantly better work-life balance, improving satisfaction and motivation, just over half believe that it improves staff productivity, and almost a quarter say that it helps them scale quickly to cope with rapid growth.
Almost a third of flexible working businesses also feel that their policy helps them access a wider talent pool, and a quarter say it helps them employ people in more remote locations.
Firms that took part in the survey vouched for other benefits too. In Cape Town, 32,1% of companies said it would give them access to a wider talent pool, compared with 25,3% in Johannesburg. Nationally, 40,5% of businesses reported they believe it encourages staff to be more self-sufficient and pro-active in their work.
Great stuff. So, why is it that some 48% of companies restrict flexible working to senior staff? According to Meyer, they are missing out on a huge opportunity, and depriving the very people that could benefit most.
People of all ages appreciate the option to choose their working hours and location. But often those who appreciate it most are those people who have young families, who think work-life balance is a necessity, not a luxury, or those who have a life outside work – whether it’s caring for older relatives, doing charity or community work, or playing sport.
Most under 30s have grown up in a technology-based world of social media, laptops and wireless, and they expect to be able to work in more flexible and mobile ways, often viewing traditional nine-to-five, fixed-desk working practices as alien and unnecessary.
By limiting flexible working to senior staff, businesses exclude many of those who could benefit most. It is the junior managers, the young talent that are the people with greatest job mobility. The simple truth is there are more job opportunities at their level, and they are precisely the people that long-sighted organisations want to attract – they are the future of any business.
Deprived of the working practices they want, they can and will move elsewhere.
Trust seems to be the issue preventing employers from making flexible working available to their entire workforce. But it’s a management issue that should be easily addressed. If organisations offer staff the right incentives and motivation, they have every reason to achieve – whether or not they are watched over in a central office.
With so many firms recognising the advantages of flexible working, let’s see more of them offering it to all their workers. Employers, employees, families, the environment, wider society – they will all benefit.