Flexible working: are employers missing a trick?


Flexible working can benefit both employees and employers, yet many organisations don’t offer it or fail to reap the full benefits. Helen Wright from Great Place to Work (GPTW) says the key ingredient to successful flexible working is trust.

Millions of employees want flexibility. Great Place to Work’s recent survey of the UK’s working population shows that flexible working is one of the top priorities when choosing a job, particularly among millennials.

While financial benefits, job security and location/easy commute came top in our survey, the ability to work flexibly was a top priority for 24%. This increased to more than 32% for millennials.

This could suggest that, with the increasing number of millennials in the workforce, flexible working is becoming a hygiene factor with employees increasingly seeing it as the norm.

However, there is a gap between what employees want and what their employers offer. More than 45% of employees put flexitime as one of their top two types of flexible working, yet only 37% of their employers offered it.

Working from home on a regular basis and compressed hours were the most useful type of flexible working for 28% and 25% of employees respectively yet in reality, only 22% of employers offered the opportunity to work from home and only 19% offered compressed hours.

Top three priorities when choosing a new job

% of respondents*
Pay and other financial benefits 49%
Job security 39%
Location/easy commute 37%
The job itself is interesting and/or enjoyable 30%
Ability to work flexibly 24%
Work-life balance 19%
Being proud of the job 15%
The opportunity to progress in my career 14%
The people that I would be working with 9%
The ability to ‘make a difference’ in my role 9%

*Respondents could select more than one priority

Successful flexible working

Why have some employers been able to embrace flexible working successfully while others have not? And how have some jobs or sectors not traditionally seen as being suitable for flexible working been able to make it work?

There are a number of factors. Technology has undoubtedly been a great enabler and the role of management is also critical.

GPTW’s survey showed that flexible working and work-life balance were less important to directors and managers compared with non-managers and supervisors.

This may suggest management may not always fully appreciate how flexible working could benefit the organisation. As well as training to raise awareness of the benefits of flexible working and how to implement it, role modelling by leaders can send an important message to employees.

Flexible working – what employees want and what their employers offer

Types of flexible working What employees want
% of respondents
What their employers offer
% of respondents
Flexitime 45% 37%
Working from home 28% 22%
Compressed hours 25% 19%
Part-time 21% 57%
Annual hours 16% 21%
Staggered hours 16% 30%
Career breaks/sabbaticals 12% 26%
Job-share 7% 23%
Mobile working/teleworking 7% 16%
Other 2% 3%


For instance, at one major organisation the CIO started to lead the way by working from home one day a week.

As he doesn’t have children, this dramatically shifted the mindset of his managers and reinforced the message that flexible working is for all.

Fairness is also important. Employees are quick to pick up if teams have different flexible working arrangements. This may be a reflection of the teams’ managers, or a legacy set-up that has been inherited.

With management comes performance management – here managers need to set clear objectives and the focus should be on outcomes, not presenteeism or face-time.

High trust cultures

The most critical factor in successful flexible working is trust. Management need to trust employees and employees need to feel trusted.

Organisations with high trust cultures recognise that taking a flexible approach to where and when work is done is the best way to keep a motivated and skilled workforce.

They embrace the theory that “work is what you’re doing, not where you’re sitting”. Employees are often empowered to find a style of working that suits them and are provided with technology and practical support so they can work from wherever is most appropriate.

Our research found that the UK’s Best Workplaces (as ranked by GPTW) tended to offer flexible working more than average workplaces.

For example, 55% of the best workplaces offered flexitime, while 75% offered working from home, compared with just 37% and 33% respectively at average workplaces.

Some Best Workplaces have even created specialised teams and programmes, which focus on developing and maintaining flexible working and work/life integration initiatives for their employees.

Flexible working offered by Best Workplaces and average workplaces

Types of flexible working UK’s Best Workplaces Average UK Workplace
Flexitime 55% 37%
Working from home 75% 22%


Flexible working is a source of competitive advantage for many employers and a “must have” for employees looking for a job. Whilst there are many factors which will ensure it works well for both parties, none is more critical than organisational trust and an enabling culture.

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