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Making the business case for flexible working – a summary
We’ve gathered evidence to support organisations with the process of building a business case for flexible working, based on 30 years of working with our employer members combined with insights from researchers and HR leaders. Whether you’re at the start of the journey to implement flexible working in your organisation, or you’re looking to develop existing strategies, the following covers key issues for you to consider.
For some employers, flexible working is so embedded in organisational cultures, and in support of Corporate Social Responsibility, that they no longer require a business case to win over senior leaders. Interviews with some of our leading employer members indicate that they have moved beyond the need for a business case. For them, flexible working is simply the way of working to align with organisational values and achieve business goals.
The term ‘flexible working’ encompasses a wide range of arrangements giving employees greater control over when, where and how they work. You can find out more about the different types of flexible work here.
Finding traction for your business case
A solid business case can play a pivotal role in getting people on board and driving change, but you may want to consider introducing it alongside other strategies, like running a trial with a small team to capture your own evidence of success and undertaking surveys to improve understanding of people’s attitudes to it.
Crucially, the business case needs to be aligned with core values and strategic objectives. For instance, how will flexible working support the goal of being a more inclusive organisation? Will it help solve your recruitment and retention challenges?
- While we use the term ‘flexibility’, you don’t have to. Some employers find that reframing flexibility is a crucial starting point to winning people over. Consider alternative terms like ‘agile’, ‘smart’ or ‘dynamic’ working.
Key themes to consider in your business case
Productivity and performance
- Recent research shows that most managers perceive flexible working to increase productivity (71%) and see it as a performance enhancing tool (63%).1
- Employers are increasingly seeing a positive relationship between flexible working and commitment. Employees granted greater levels of freedom and trust are shown to raise their level of performance and work more productively.2
- Focus on employee and team outputs rather than on time spent working. Presenteeism and time spent are weak markers of productivity and distract from processes to motivate high performance based more on employee empowerment.
Case study – EY
Professional Services firm EY recognised that introducing flexible working was more about a change in culture than a change in policy or legislation. For that reason EY engaged a Working Families specialist to design and deliver an internal programme of behavioural and operation change. The change programme, designed to scale across the business through identified change agents and which impacted almost 10,000 employees in the UK, was built around the EY Vision to be leaders in Flexible Working in the professional services sector.
At the heart of the change EY had identified six key behaviours (which included trust, focus on outputs, embrace diversity) that underpin successful flexible working for them. Whilst EY placed an ambitious time line against realising the initial benefits for this change they also fully recognised that this cultural change so vital to the future success of the organisations growth and advantage in the recruitment market was no overnight shift but would take time to implement well. The business case identified potential benefits in terms of:
- improved employee engagement
- improved productivity
- improved staff retention
- improved staff attraction
- real estate optimisation
- reduced travel between offices
EY’s change programme was robust, structured and well sponsored which contributed to its success. Early buy in from leadership helped the programme gather momentum; each of the service line leaders became role models for the change. In fact EY established 25 diverse role models at all levels of the organisation and published their stories on its internal Flexible Working Portal to help others identify a role model they could relate to. EY also established a network of ‘change agents’ throughout the business. These change agents were given specific training, developed in partnership with Working Families, in behavioural and operational change management, the six key behaviours and tools and templates to enable them to run workshops with their local teams. EY also introduced a mandatory 45-minute online training course for all staff based around the six key behaviours.
In terms of success, EY estimates that it has already achieved benefits of at least £15 million per annum. Measuring adoption is equally important. For that, EY has developed a Flexible Working Healthcheck based around a straightforward 10-minute survey sent to all staff. The results of the December 2014 Flexible Working Healthcheck were very positive and confirmed the change has been adopted and sustained some 12 months after completion of the change programme.
Diversity and inclusion
- Flexible working is vital for inclusivity. It’s especially important for groups of employees who cannot access the labour market without it, for instance, parents, carers and people with a disability. But although it’s a necessity for some employees, it’s important that it’s expanded for all employees to reduce any stigma against it and ensure equality in pay and progression.
- Flexible working that is implemented effectively and fairly is playing a key role in narrowing gender pay gaps and reducing inequality.3 Women are significantly more likely to work flexibly and part-time, yet these arrangements are often not available at senior level. Employers taking action to increase the availability of part-time and flexible opportunities at all levels are seeing a narrowing of the gender pay gap.4
- Demonstrate the impact of flexible working on diversity objectives through monitoring. Staff surveys provide a way to understand who is working flexibly and this information can be intersected with workforce diversity data and feed into gender pay gap reporting.
Case study – Zurich (2020)
Embedding flexible working across the business
Zurich empower their leaders to manage formal and informal flexible working requests on a local level. Their agile working scheme is called FlexWorks, and recent feedback showed that 74% of people said they fully embrace this agile working practice, and 86% of people feel that they often or almost always feel their manager supports a work life balance. 87% of employees who participated in a further review of FlexWork felt their manager trusted them to make good choices and decisions around agile working.
Since March 2019, Zurich made a key move to advertise every vacancy as available part time, job share or full time working opportunity alongside ‘FlexWork’, our with agile working programme. They have conversations about agile working with candidates up front. This fosters a relationship of trust and transparency and an understanding as to how work can be realistically balanced. They are focused on getting the right people on board and making it work. There is a huge talent pool of people who need to work from home, flexibly or part time for many reasons. They don’t want to miss out on this talent, so both new and existing employees also have the option to request to work on a part time, job share or FlexWork basis. By empowering employees to work where, when and how they choose, Zurich feel that this optimises productivity and wellbeing and enables employees to balance their professional and personal commitments.
Line managers are trained in managing flexible working arrangements so that they work for individual employees and for teams. To ensure that agile working is effective, people leaders are encouraged to remain connected with their employees, understanding the efforts, priorities and workloads of all members of the team. Employees who work from home or off site could easily become isolated, so Zurich encourage that ‘extra effort’ from their managers to remain connected with all of their people. Excessive working hours is a topic which requires mutual respect and understanding from both employees and leaders. They encourage open and transparent relationships: if an employee feels that their work is unmanageable, they take responsibility to talk about this. Likewise, it’s important for their leaders to think carefully about job design, and how work is delegated and distributed, to ensure balance.
Tackling the gender pay gap
Zurich are tackling their gender pay gap head on with every vacancy being advertised as a potential part time, job share or full time working opportunity along with agile working. They did this following behavioural insights analysis which looked at the underlying factors contributing to their gap. This has already generated significant change, combined with the use of gender-neutral language in every job advertisement.
They saw an immediate increase in female applications and, since this change almost a year ago, the business has seen a 14% increase in the number of females applying for jobs across all levels of the business. This is particularly prominent around senior management roles which has seen a more pronounced percentage increase of 16%.
Recruitment and retention
- According to a recent Working Families survey, 69% of working parents would consider jobs advertised as flexible more attractive when looking for work in the future and 84% wanted employers to do more to create flexible jobs.5 But it’s not just parents and carers who want flexible jobs, 92% of young people want to work flexibly.6 Hence, flexible working arrangements are now at the heart of activity, for all employers, to recruit and retain talent and must be aligned to strategic objectives.
- Employees who are given the opportunity to work flexibly (with agreed arrangements) report higher levels of job satisfaction than those who do not. They welcome control over their working lives and are consequently more committed to their employer and are more likely to stay, reducing staff turnover. This also impacts positively on employee attendance, productivity and performance.7
- Experiment by offering flexible working arrangements to a small team or function and assess its impact through staff satisfaction surveys and interviews.
Case study – Together Housing
Together Housing is one of the largest non-profit housing associations in the North of England, managing over 36,000 homes.
With 1,493 employees, the organisation has always offered flexible working from day one and prides itself on this being one of the main benefits.
The historical Flexi Policy enabled colleagues to work flexibly between 7.30am and 7pm. This was suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic to enable people the freedom to balance home and work priorities. This has now been replaced by ‘smart agile’ working.
This new approach offers even greater flexibility to colleagues. It is adaptable to enable people to get the job done without the constraints of timesheets and core hours.
The organisation’s vision is to create a culture based on trust and mutual flexibility where people are judged on outputs and not hours. They have piloted the following patterns with no reduction in pay:
- four-day week
- nine-day fortnight
- Monday – Thursday until 8pm
- contractually home-based
- evening and weekend working
- five days spread over seven.
The organisation wanted to deliver a culture where the employee takes ownership of their workplace, pattern and delivery. It has been trialling these different ways of working to understand the impact across roles and services, and to monitor employee productivity and engagement. Performance has been measured on achievement of objectives rather than hours, with colleagues discouraged from keeping time records.
Survey findings reveal that 75% of the workforce are ‘very happy’ with the working hours and patterns, up from 33%. Sickness absence has fallen by 46% and 96% of people report being happier in the pilots than prior to the extensive home and agile working arrangements. Significantly, 74% of people said they were ‘very motivated to go the extra mile on a regular basis’.
As well as more motivated and happy staff, there have been savings for the business. There has been a mileage reduction of 34% and cost savings from the closure of one office. The average saving for employees on commuting is between £509 and £1,745 and between 116 to 324 hours per colleague per year, equating to a significant salary increase.
The organisation is now keeping these flexible working arrangements on a permanent basis, and is rolling out smart agile working to everyone, adapting to the needs of each service and individual employee.
Wellbeing and work-life integration
- By working flexibly, employees are better able to manage their personal circumstances and integrate work with their homelife. Recent research conducted by Working Families in collaboration with King’s College London found that effective flexible working practices reduce the need for trade offs among parents, especially mothers, helping them to balance their career with family life.8
- Employees’ sense of wellbeing is improved through flexible working, partly as a result of the increased trust shown by the employer. Additionally, flexible workers report being able to better manage their mental health, therefore reducing the need for time off.9
- Engage a senior sponsor to push the case at the highest level of the organisation. For instance, consider engaging the leader responsible for organisational wellbeing to champion this agenda and ensure that the rest of the senior leadership team model flexible working themselves.
Case study – Scouts Scotland
Scout’s Scotland understands that people need to be able to balance work and life at home in a healthy way. Essentially, maintaining a good work-life balance is a what we are all about as an employer. Scout’s Scotland offers a wide range of part-time contracts, compressed hours, early and late finishes, annualised hours, phased retirement, short- and long-term arrangements.
Employees can make use of an onsite school holiday childcare club offering a 25% discount. This is a benefit available to all employees, and one that really adds values due to the number of parents working for Scout’s Scotland. In our view, flexible working is about much more than just the hours people work. It’s about making sure people are happy at work and have the freedom to organise work in a way allows them to manage other commitments and avoid unnecessary stress.
- Increase in the volume of job applications and no longer advertise more than once to fill a role.
- We have experienced a significant decrease in sickness related absences. (average 2017 – 153 days per quarter, 2018 – 82 days per quarter, 2019 – 8 days per quarter).
- We have been recognised as a Carer Positive Engaged Employer by the Carers Trust for supporting employees who are carers to remain at work.
- We have received significant positive feedback from employees verified independently by Investors in People.
- Enhanced maternity and paternity pay. Maternity up to 3 months full pay depending on length of service. Paternity and adoption pay.
- Flexible working opportunities are highlighted to parents and carers.
- We have onsite school holiday childcare and offer employees a 25% discount.
- We offer childcare vouchers but obviously that is now closed to new applicants due to legislative changes.
- Maternity up to 3 months full pay depending on length of service. Adoption pay as per maternity and paternity.
- 100% of employees work flexibly informally
What their people say:
“I have never worked anywhere that has such a fantastic attitude to work-life balance as Scouts Scotland. They do more than just have policies in place- they actively encourage staff to work in a way that supports their own and their family’s well-being. This flexible working culture has made it much easier for me, as a single Mum, to be able to return to work for the first time in 7 years. I work part-time and was able to choose the hours and days I work meaning I could fit work around the childcare that was available.”
“The encouragement to work flexibly means that I can structure my time in a way that positively impacts me and my family whilst still allowing me to fulfil my role at work – I sometimes use my lunch hour to go outside for some fresh air and exercise and have always been able to swap my hours so that I don’t miss the small but important things in life- like my daughter’s football match or my son’s assembly. It’s refreshing to work somewhere with such a forward-thinking attitude – it makes for a hugely positive working culture – and a much happier home life!”
1 Holly Birkett et al. (2021) Managing employees during Covid-19: Flexible working and the future of work. Work Inclusivity Research Centre: University or Birmingham.
2 Deirdre Anderson and Clare Kelliher. (2010) Doing more with less? Flexible working practices and the intensification of work. Human Relations. 63:1.
3 Heejung Chung et al. (2021) Covid-19, flexible working, and implications for gender equality in the United Kingdom. Gender & Society.
4 See example of Zurich: ‘Zurich sees leap in women applying for senior roles after offering all jobs as flexible’.
5 Working Families. (2021) Building back better for working parents. FlextheUK campaign briefing.
6 UK Commission for Employment and Skills. (2014) The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030.
7 Lilian De Menezes and Clare Kelliher. (2016) Flexible Working, Individual Performance, and Employee Attitudes: Comparing Formal and Informal Arrangements. Human Resource Management.
8 King’s College London and Working Families. (2021) Working parents, flexibility and job quality: what are the trade offs?
9 Wildgoose. 2019-2020 Flexible working survey.
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