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Why many workers are demanding more flexibility at work

We may still quote ‘the 9-5’, but the concept of set working hours at one static place of employment has become outdated.

The world is 24/7 and we’re more global than ever. Whatever industry you work in, it is likely you have to ‘do business’ with other countries, or during times that do not fit with usual office hours. Not only are employers requiring staff to be flexible, but as this article explores, workers are expecting a degree of flexibility to help their performance at work, as well as to achieve a work-life balance.

What is flexible working?

Work flexibility can be described in many ways: part-time working, days working from home, or working different hours, such as 7am to 3pm instead of 9am to 5pm. It means so much to employees, that one study reported that four in ten would ask for flexible arrangements over a pay rise.

It makes business sense

There is no doubt flexibility in the workplace is on the increase, and it isn’t just to be seen as a ‘nice’ employer. According to Vodafone, 75% of global companies “leverage flexible working policies” and 61% of global companies noted higher profits once they had.

Not only do the figures show profits and staff retention improve if flexibility is offered, but businesses need to follow the example of other more maverick companies in order to attract talent and keep them.

Workers’ rights

Missing out on a long commute or being able to dial in for that vital evening meeting appeal to many people, but it is not just the benefits to the business or the individual that make it possible. In the UK it is a legal requirement that employers offer their staff the chance to apply for flexible working if they have worked for them for 26 weeks continuously. And if the company refuse that request, there has to be a business reason. Although it was previously the right of a parent, the law opened up the opportunity to all staff in 2014.

Other countries, such as Germany, Italy and France also offer more flexibility for staff. In Germany, employees who have worked for six months in a company (with 15 or more staff) can request to reduce their hours or ask for leave to care for relatives. France has been flexible-friendly for some time, and as reported in Personnel Today, there are laws helping to clarify the rules for both employers and employees.

Benefitting families

Flexible working statistics in the USA state that 46% of the workforce are women, with three out of four mothers an employee; so offering increased flexibility to families means being able to recruit or retain skilled mums — and dads. As AARP’s (American Association of Retired Persons’) Public Policy Institute report ‘Making Work More Flexible: Opportunities and Evidence’ highlights: “With the increase in dual-earning couples, growing demands on families to manage increasingly complex health, retirement, and care arrangements, and an expressed desire of older workers to sustain some attachment to the labour force at older age, the need for workplace flexibility has increased.” Although it goes on to say in the USA there is still a gap to be filled between the needs of the employee and the flexibility offered in the workplace.

One of the best work flexibility examples is Richard Branson’s global brand Virgin. Not only do members of the ‘Virgin Tribe’ benefit from health care, fantastic discounts and big bonuses, in 2014 Mr Branson extended his offering to a full year with full salary for maternity leave or paternity leave for those staff who had been with the company for four years or more.

Concerns for employers

There is still unease about offering flexibility as an employer, perhaps due to potential extra costs or concerns about impact on performance. It is reported by Timewise that whether a job is flexible is not discussed up front - only one in four jobs are advertised as offering a level of flexibility, even though it is often available. For those to whom workplace flexibility is vital, this could mean missing out on their dream job.

Even if the employer is not keen on flexibility, employees working within countries within the European Union have certain elements of their working hours protected by The Working Regulations. This states that staff should work no more than 48 hours a week (unless they ‘opt out’), are paid annual leave, have at least 11 hours turnaround time from finishing one shift to starting another and regular breaks including a day off a week.

The future

It’s only a matter of time before employers that are currently resisting calls by staff for flexible work arrangements are forced to change. The move towards flexible working is not thought to be a passing trend. It is expected by 2020 70% of us will be working flexibly, according to Lancaster University’s report Working Foundation.

This may mean we adjust our working hours to ensure we are home in time to put our children to bed, or become digital nomads in order to travel the world while earning money from just our laptops. Whatever the case, there is no doubt working flexibly is becoming not just a rare benefit from a forward-thinking company, but the norm for many employees and their employers.

You may not be able to choose your ideal office hours, but there is plenty you can do to ensure you stay healthy and maintain your work-life balance. We offer a range of guides and information to help you do just this. Learn more about workers’ rights in popular expat countries in our comprehensive destination guides. To find out about the international private medical insurance options for globally mobile employees, contact one of our sales consultants.

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