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Robert McWhirter

Does flexible working work?

Does flexible working work

The piece below was written in 2013. To see a more recent article about Browser’s remote and flexible working philosophy, click here.



“Organisations that offer employees alternative work options more often than not benefit by seeing increased morale, productivity and loyalty” says Allison O’Kelly on the Talent Management blog.

But is this true? And if it is, how much flexibility should a company give its employees?

The theory behind flexible working hours sounds great: give your workers more trust and respect by offering them more freedom and in return, they will work harder and be happier. You might have already heard about Netflix’s holiday policy – there is no policy. Netflix employees can take as much holiday as they like, whenever they like. They take the admirable attitude that “we should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked. Just as we don’t have a nine to five policy, we don’t need a vacation policy.”

Indeed, according to the CIPD, 80% of today’s UK workforce have some sort of flexible working policy in place. Those that don’t put it down to operational pressures, customer requirements and, interestingly, line manager’s attitudes. Whilst operational pressures and customer requirements might be difficult to avoid, manager’s conservative attitudes often stem from the fear that employees will abuse such freedom to take hours or days off when they feel. Surprisingly though, most flexible policies seem to have had the opposite effect. With regard to Netflix’s holiday policy a commenter in the Telegraph writes:

“There’s no standard allotment for people to use as a benchmark, so that employees can say “I should be taking 4 weeks holiday”. People (particularly new employees) want to impress, so they take less holiday.”

The commenter has a good point – after all, the concept of having a benchmark is important. Rules serve an important purpose in business and management: they communicate the companies expectations of their employees and what the employee should expect from their employer. Without them, employees will have the temptation to work for longer, under increased pressure to perform.

The solution might lie somewhere in the middle of these approaches, somewhere in between the too good to be true, unlimited holiday bonanza and an unbendable 9-5 policy. Lotte Bailyn writes that “many people, of course, could benefit from more time off, but employees need guidelines. A mandatory minimum of two weeks of vacation might be a good starting point.”

The biggest lesson to take away might be from our friends at Netflix. They say: “focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked”.

Sure, make sure people know what the benchmark is in terms of hours but, more importantly, make sure that they know what the expectation is in terms of performance.