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Flexible working works but employers want pound of flesh from employees


There are clear business benefits for implementing flexible working

Scottish employers and workers think flexible working is good for business and for people.

But more than four in 10 (43%) business leaders and senior managers say greater flex is being held back because of opposition from their own peers and senior colleagues, prompting calls for ‘doubting’ business leaders to stop dismissing flex and look at the evidence.

New research published by social business Flexibility Works in a report called Flex for Life 2024 shows 71% of Scottish employers think flexible working is positive for their organisation, and 85% of Scottish workers either already work flexibly or would like to do so.

The figures, based on polling data from 262 Scottish business leaders and senior managers as well as 1,016 Scottish workers, are the latest in a growing body of evidence about the positive impact of flexible working, which Flexibility Works says business leaders should take seriously.

According to the new data, flexible working continues to rise in Scotland with 67% of workers saying they work flexibly, up from 61% last year, and 46% pre-pandemic.

The research includes comparative responses from flexible workers (people who currently work flexibly) and workers without flexibility that demonstrates clear business benefits from offering flex. Flexible workers consistently responded more positively than workers without flex to a range of statements, including:

  • I’m happy with my work life balance (77% of flexible workers, 47% of workers without flex)
  • I would like to stay with my employer (73% of flexible workers, 58% of workers without flex)
  • I feel calm and focused at work (69% of flexible workers, 46% of workers without flex)
  • I would recommend my employer (65% of flexible workers, 42% of workers without flex)

Nikki Slowey, co-founder and director of Flexibility Works, said: “Our figures show a strong consensus among employers and workers that flexible working is good for business and for people. And we’re not alone in this finding. The business case for flex is well established with multiple, large-scale UK and international studies showing it makes good business sense to offer flexible working.

“The problem is that some business leaders, who are often highly successful and powerful, are still not willing to look beyond their own preferred ways of working, or the way things have always been done.

“It’s absolutely right to scrutinise flexible working. But the case for flex is stronger than ever and we believe some flexible working is possible in almost every role. We’re urging business leaders who still have doubts about flex to look at the evidence inside and outside their organisation before making decisions on how people work, rather than relying on personal preferences and tradition.”

The Scottish Government supported the research.

Gillian Martin, fair work minister, said: “Flexible working is here to stay. This year’s Flex for Life research shows the demand for flexible working has not waned among workers, and that many employers recognise the business benefits it can bring.

“In the absence of powers over employment law, the Scottish Government is determined to use the levers at our disposal to promote fair work practices – of which flexible working is key - across Scotland’s labour market.

“All employers, public and private, should take on board these findings and look to improve their flexible working offer. This can help to attract and retain workers with under-utilised skills and experience and help those on low incomes access the labour market.”

Catherine McWilliam, nations director for the Institute of Directors in Scotland, which represents more than 1,000 Scottish cross-sector industry leaders, said: “Many of today’s key business challenges, such as how to increase productivity or deal with staff shortages can be addressed, at least in part, through greater flexible working.

"It’s not about handing complete control to staff. It’s about finding mutually beneficial and better ways of working for everyone. We encourage our members to look at the evidence around flexible working, and explore greater flex within their own organisation.”

The report includes a guide for employers on how to get flexible working right, including the importance of having senior managers on board and advice on how to influence them.

The research is Scotland’s most comprehensive analysis of flexible working, and is published annually. It shows 85% of workers and 91% of employers expect flexible working in their organisation to stay the same or increase over the next 12 months.



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