Almost 9 in 10 non-managerial workers denied option of flexible working despite the recent passing of the Flexible Working Act.

A major new study of 850 finance and HR professionals by specialist HR recruitment firm, Wade Macdonald, reveals that, despite the benefits to wellbeing that flexible working offers, only 13 per cent of non-managerial employees have access to flexible working arrangements compared to 25 per cent at directorate level.

Although flexibility was the number one benefit valued most highly by an average 88 per cent of respondents across non-management, management, senior management and directorate positions for improving quality of life in the workplace, few are actually permitted to determine their own working patterns, and corporate hierarchy plays a significant role.

At individual levels, 76 per cent of those at director level and above, 88 per cent working in senior management and non-management roles, and a staggering 91 per cent for management, value flexible working.

However, restrictions are heavy. A fifth (20 per cent) of non-management are required to work in the office every day, and an additional two fifths (40 per cent) for 2-3 days a week. The percentage of professionals with access to flexibility rises the higher up the hierarchical ladder they climb – 17 per cent of management, 19 per cent of senior management and 25 per cent of directors and above, can determine their own flexible working arrangements.

The positive impact that flexible working arrangements can have on employee wellbeing, productivity and sustainability efforts is well recognised, and recent attempts to get people to give up hybrid working, for example, in the civil service, have somewhat flopped.

Chris Goulding, managing director of Wade Macdonald, has noticed when recruiting that full-time office and full-time remote roles are some of the hardest to fill. He comments: “By factoring in how issues like long commutes and non-negotiable hours impact employee wellbeing, particularly those with disabilities or caring commitments, it’s understandable why employees would want the best of both worlds.

“Offering flexible working arrangements does not mean employees will always work from home. The choice is what makes the difference. Flexibility improves employee wellbeing and satisfaction, giving employees control over their time so they can thrive in and outside of work.”

For Goulding, one reason lower-level employees are granted less flexibility is likely because senior leadership see working together in person as the best way to initiate learning and development (L&D). However, he argues that in the modern age, this should not determine flexible working arrangements as companies should be able to operate in an agile way.

Goulding also believes some leaders question the trustworthiness of young workers to maintain their productivity and avoid distractions at home, while older employees are generally considered more dedicated and disciplined. He comments:

“A lot of the discussion we’re seeing in recruitment at the moment is about how difficult Gen Z is to manage and how they are less willing to work.

“This is of course a generalisation as many young people work hard and have a lot to offer but it’s important to factor in this bias when considering human decision-making. It will be interesting to explore future generational differences in the workforce to understand their impact on employee relations.”

Read the full benefits report here.

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