It’s an ongoing challenge in the world of work and a question that LMW gets asked on a weekly basis ‘how can we get the best out of our employees?’

A quick Google search returns millions of helpful suggestions on the subject, but the latest Employee Outlook report from the CIPD suggests that we’re still not getting it right. Overall levels of job satisfaction have slumped to a two-and-a-half year low with just over a third of respondents stating that their organisation doesn’t inspire the very best of them in terms of job performance. Of course we’re all aware that if our employees aren’t satisfied they are unlikely to be producing their best work.

1 in 4 employees are looking to move on

Worryingly the report also highlights that almost a quarter of employees are currently looking for a new job. Take a look around your own team – this suggests that 1 member in 4 is actively looking to move on. Again, it’s a simple fact that if an employee is job hunting there will be a noticeable drop in engagement and productivity levels.

There are a number of factors that influence employee engagement, but the report explores the link between flexible working practices and job satisfaction. It found that people who use flexible working options are more likely to say they are satisfied (61%) with their jobs than those who don’t work flexibly (53%). Findings also suggest that flexible workers are much less likely to report being under excessive pressure than people who don’t work flexibly, with 29% of flexible workers saying they are under excessive pressure every day or once or twice a week compared with 42% of people who don’t work flexibly. In fact one of the top three most frequently cited benefits of flexible working is that it helps employees reduce the amount of stress/pressure they feel.

What is flexible working anyway?

The report classes flexible working practices as: Part-time working; Term-time working; Job-share; Flexi-time; Compressed hours; Annual hours; Working from home on a regular basis; Mobile working; Career break sabbaticals; Secondment to another organisation and Time off to work in the community. Although the survey shows that while many employers have policies on things like job sharing and term time working, in practice these are hardly ever used.

Whilst flexible working practices simply aren’t practical for everyone and the nature of the work has to be taken into consideration – we’re not suggesting that it would be feasible for a retail assistant to work remotely! – what’s concerning is that negative attitudes among senior managers (15%) and an engrained working culture that places an emphasis on being seen at their desk (13%) and a lack of trust (9%) are some of the main obstacles to providing or increasing the use of flexible working. Clearly these aren’t true barriers but rather perceived issues and employers need to recognise the strong business case for increasing the use of flexible working. This can include the chance to reduce office space, as well as the positive effect it will have in terms of recruiting, engaging and retaining employees. Employers that promote the use of flexible working will also support the well-being of their workforce which will help them meet their duty of care to their employees.

What employers need to do

CIPD suggests that employers should review flexible working practices by consulting with staff over the type of flexibility that would be of most benefit and then balance this against what type of flexible working will work for the business. To be sustainably, flexible working needs to be a win-win for both the organisation and the individual. The attitudes of managers are key to unlocking the full potential of flexible working and organisations need to ensure that senior and line managers understand their role in shaping organisational culture and enabling more flexible ways of working.

There is also a need for more innovative ways of flexible working to become more common and changes to the attitudes of managers through training to address this. Options such as job sharing can require more time and effort on the part of HR and line managers to set up and get the right match, but they can more than return this investment in terms of retaining key talent and the innovation and creativity that two people can bring to one role.

There is no magic formula for motivating and inspiring the best from our employees – employee engagement requires an ongoing and sustained effort across the organisation, but the use of flexible working appears to have a significant impact on the quality of people’s working lives, meaning they are more satisfied with their jobs which should in turn result in greater productivity – which is surely the outcome that we’re all after.

The full report can be accessed here.

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