Louise’s lowdown: Flexible working forms a key piece of the retention puzzle

Louise Fordham Headshot 2016

According to the Workingmums annual survey, published by Workingmums.co.uk in October 2016, almost a fifth (18%) of working mothers have been forced to leave their job because a flexible-working request has been turned down. Among respondents currently on maternity leave, 41% would not return to their job because of their employer’s refusal to accommodate flexible working. These are worrying figures; not only for the barriers created around women’s earnings and career progression, and the potential impact on their financial security and wellbeing, but also for businesses and society more widely. Can organisations and industry really afford to lose the knowledge, innovation, and skills that these employees bring to the table?

While it is not always possible for employers to accommodate flexible-working requests, it is an issue that continues to rise up employees’ agendas. More than half (53%) of employee respondents would rather be offered flexible-working arrangements as a benefit than a 5% salary increase, and 45% would choose flexible working over a 10% pay rise, according to The competitive advantage of flexible and family-friendly working report, published by My Family Care and Hydrogen in October 2016. It is not just working parents that flexible-working policies can support, it can also help staff with adult and eldercare responsibilities, and give employees of all ages and lifestyles the opportunity to pursue their passions outside of work, such as a hobby, sports activity, or further learning.

However, even where flexibility can be accommodated, perceived attitudes towards working flexibly remain a cause of concern among staff. My Family Care and Hydrogen’s report found that 26% of female employees and 18% of male employees worry that working flexibly could impact their career prospects, and more than a quarter (28%) of respondents feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about the possibility of introducing a more fluid working pattern.

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Fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace culture that makes flexible working visible within the organisation is a key step in removing negative perceptions, as is the role of senior leaders in demonstrating and communicating their support for flexibility and work-life balance. More than half (57%) of organisations in Working Families’ Top employers for working families benchmark report 2016, published in October, include the creation of a flexible and family-friendly workplace in their values and mission statement, and almost all (94%) have the support of senior leaders who champion flexibility.

Changing attitudes and workplace culture is no small task, but with The competitive advantage of flexible and family-friendly working report finding that more than half (52%) of employees believe it will be more challenging for organisations to retain staff if they do not offer flexible working, it is surely a task worth undertaking.