Recession causing employees to shun flexible working

Employees are less inclined to take up the option of flexible working and are instead prone to “presenteeism” due to pressure they feel because of the ongoing economic uncertainty.

This is according to telecommunications company O2, which has published a report that looked at the future of work and flexible working. It found that almost half (41%) of office-based employees say that they feel pressure to be present and visible in the office as a result of the economic climate, a finding that O2 claims is undermining organisations’ ability to compete.

The report also found that more than a quarter (27%) of respondents felt that their performance is primarily measured by the time they spend in the office, rather than their output. The same number also said that they felt they are prevented from working flexibly by their line managers.

More than half (54%) of employees said that working flexibly helps to strike a better work/life balance and 52% said that they felt working flexibly boosts productivity. However, 31% of employees also said that they felt their employer failed to take advantage of the benefits of flexible working, such as increased productivity, reduced costs and maximising competitiveness.

Despite the finding that 41% of employees are spending more time in the office, a separate study of business decision-makers found that this is not what employers want. Four in 10 (39%) said that allowing staff to work flexible hours makes their business more productive and that 43% said it helps retain employees.

However, the survey also found that 77% of organisations prevent staff from working flexibly across teams and one in six (16%) has no flexible working policy at all.

David Plumb, O2’s general manager for enterprise, said: “With so many organisations facing economic uncertainty, our research suggests large numbers of businesses are missing out on the productivity gains, improved employee and customer engagement and efficient processes that such flexible working practices can deliver. We have found that flexible working has different mindsets depending on if you are the employee or the employer, and that employees are spending more time at their desks because they believe they have to is not going to contribute to driving UK business forward.”

Plumb suggested that senior managers and line managers had to lead by example if their organisations are to fully take advantage of the benefits of flexible working. He said: “The culture change needs to start at the top. Boards need to believe in flexible working, and it all starts with examples. Are the people on the board leading by example by holding teleconferences and altering their hours to collect their children from school?”

Plumb also highlighted how, by failing to make use of flexible working, employers could be missing out on key talent. He added: “Generation Y is demanding this way of working. They want to use their own technology in the office and work in a pattern that suits them. And we want that talent.”

The findings were published as O2 launched “Joined up people”, a service designed to equip businesses to maximise the use of informations and communications technology in their business and capitalise on the positive potential that flexible working provides.

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