Being able to work flexibly can have a hugely positive impact on peoples’ work, and their personal lives too.
Today we’re launched our new report, A Means to Many Ends, which looks at older workers’ experiences of flexible working, which looks at why 50+ workers want to use flexible working options, how they work in practice, and what barriers people typically face when they try to work flexibly.
What is flexible working?
Although it’s very difficult to define, it’s worth considering what we mean by flexible working. We see it as being a whole range of options, for example flexi-time, working from home or working a four-day week. But crucially it can only be considered flexible when the individual either instigates changes or personally benefits.
The report finds that older workers want flexibility for a variety of reasons – for example, to meet caring responsibilities, wind down to retirement, or to manage a health condition.
Flexible working is usually very positive, enabling people to remain in employment and make ends meet, balancing personal commitments with work.
And all this is not to mention the benefits for their employers of retaining skilled staff, having a more committed and loyal workforce, or perhaps being able to mentor younger workers.
Despite the benefits too many employers still seem reluctant to even consider flexibility, which is bad news for both parties – to make sure that everyone who wants to work is able to do so, a culture change is needed, with renewed emphasis on the mutual benefits of flexible working.
There are, however, significant barriers to accessing flexible working.
For example, one older worker had made flexible arrangements allowing her to balance work and studies with her line manager. However, when the line manager left, the replacement was completely against the idea and cancelled the changes. This meant the employee had had to abandon her studies.
There is a clear need for improving knowledge of flexible working and how it operates among managers.
Many older workers are afraid to ask for flexible arrangements, for fear of being made top of the redundancy hit-list (and perhaps the knowledge of the difficulties of finding another job).
This shows that managers and HR departments have a big role to actively encourage employees to apply for flexible arrangements.
And it emphasises the importance of the ‘right to request’.
The ‘right to request’
The Government is set to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees (currently this is just for parents and some carers), something which Age UK fully supports.
Having a legal back-up will help give people the confidence they need to ask about flexible working options and change the attitudes of some employers.
But we think that we could and should go even further, and that all jobs should be ‘flexible by default’ by 2020 – in practice this would mean that people could assume they can work flexibly, unless the employer justifies otherwise.
We believe this would change mindsets on both sides – and provide a much needed boost to older workers’ chances of accessing flexible working.