Why the UK now has a real opportunity to utilise the talents of flexible workers


The most infamous 6-letter word in the English language if you’re British.

With so many headlines, articles, news reports, comments and opinions, it’s difficult to know how Brexit will look when it finally arrives. There is a lot of focus on the doom and gloom of Brexit, however, there is a real opportunity for employees to embrace the unknown.

Brexit is giving employers a golden opportunity to rethink the ways in which jobs are designed for the people who have the right skills and talent.

With all the panic around talent shortages and the UK’s inability to fill the roles that will be lost due to Brexit, you would be forgiven for believing that there wasn’t a simpler and closer-to-home solution to this problem.

One solution could be to radically rethink how jobs are designed and how to attract the right talent to do those jobs. Insured employers need to embrace flexibility both in job design, but also in the ways in which people fulfil their job roles.

When looking at flexibility, the key questions that employees need to ask are:

Where can a job be done? When can it be done? And how could someone do it?

Some examples could be occasional, remote working from home; informal mobile working; or simply just the addition of some more offices or sites to provide full-time, flexible options for employees. Roles can be made fully flexible, with different start and finish times, annualised hours, compressed hours, or on a project basis. There could be part-time options, job-sharing/job-splitting options, project-based work, or the ability to take unpaid leave.

These are just some of the examples that demonstrate how one job can be redefined in different ways to enable people to see how they can combine their career with the desire for flexible working.

The demand for flexible working is not going to go away. Recent EHRC research has shown that every year, 54000 women lose their jobs due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination.[1] Many of these women, when trying to re-enter the workforce, find it difficult to do so at their previous career level for a myriad of reasons. One of these is lack of flexibility.

92% of 18-34-year olds want the option of flexible working; 88% of 35-54 year olds; and 72% of people over 55 want flexible working. [2]

The reasons can be vast and varied and may include caring responsibilities, reasonable adjustments, lifestyle choices, wanting to minimise long commutes, other commitments outside of work, more time to study, for leisure or general convenience.

With such a demand for flexible working within the current UK workforce, it is very clear that the upcoming challenges of Brexit can partially be met by looking at current homegrown talent that is either currently working beneath their skillset because they’re the only roles that offer flexibility, or for those who have stepped out of the job market entirely because lack of flexibility has meant that they are unable to work due to financial pressures.

Brexit presents a solid opportunity to change the narrative around how we allow people to work.  Research shows that if businesses continue to ignore the calls for greater flexibility in the workplace, they could miss out on 12 billion pounds a year by 2023 and with Brexit looming large on the horizon, this is a bill that the UK economy cannot afford to pay. [3]

So, what are the benefits of flexible working?

The 2018 HSBC productivity study concluded that 9 in 10 workers believe that flexible working motivates them to be more productive at work.[4]

With multiple generations in the workplace at the same time for the first time ever, it is not surprising that flexibility has become an employee benefit that more people require for different reasons.

In order to ensure that the economy continues to grow, flexibility is important for different demographics that make up the UK workforce, such as returners, older workers, people with caring responsibilities and other interests outside of the workplace. Research has shown that a third of the working population believes that the ability to work flexibly or, at the very least, the ability to fit their work life around their family life, is the most important criteria when looking for a new job.

With many job roles that need to be filled due to Brexit, this will be at the forefront of many people’s minds. Therefore, it makes sense for employers to consider flexibility when looking for home-grown talent to fill the void of international talent that they will no longer be able to easily access.

Unfortunately, flexible working still has a bad reputation within the business world, however, with tools and technologies in place, and with the right training for employers and line managers, when done right, it can have a hugely positive impact on business. It can allow people to work in a smart and efficient way, it can improve productivity, save time, reduce costs, and boost employee happiness.

Whilst Brexit has brought lots of uncertainty to the UK economy, as an employer there are things that you can do to help mitigate those uncertainties. Embracing flexible working as a key business strategy is one of them. It is a simple but effective measure that employers can take to ensure that their current and future employees feel valued and willing to stay with them whatever the political storm in the wake of Brexit lies ahead.

Based on current projections and what we know about our current workforce, there may be an element of truth to this, however, another way to view this is as an opportunity to tap into a hidden in plain sight workforce that is right here in the UK.

This workforce is made up of individuals who either want to work but can’t work because of lack of flexibility or are trapped in jobs beneath their skill set because the job role they are in doesn’t offer that flexibility.

Brexit offers an amazing opportunity to right this wrong.

[1] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/managing-pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/pregnancy-and-maternity-discrimination-research-findings

[2] https://timewise.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Flexible_working_Talent_Imperative.pdf

[3] https://www.quinyx.com/blog/flexible-workforce

[4] People, Productivity and Flexible Working – HSBC 2018

By Michelle Gyimah

Michelle’s unique understanding of employee engagement and workplace challenges enables her to embed practical application into her consultancy.

In addition to working with employers, Michelle is also a passionate advocate for enabling women to get equal pay and close their pay gaps.  She does this by supporting their equal pay investigations and teaching women workplace negotiation skills.

Michelle has over 10 years’ experience of working at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and holds a Masters in Human Rights from The University of Manchester.

Michelle is a regular contributor to numerous national business magazines, international conferences and lives in Manchester, UK.

Website: www.equalitypays.co.uk

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michellegyimah/

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