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Why UK Businesses Should Offer Blue-Collar Workers Flexible Working Hours

By Mark Underwood

Executive Summary from Mark Underwood:

Mark Underwood

This article provides a unique insight into flexible working hours. Using data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, along with my own experience leading the biggest recruiter in the UK, it’s clear that reality on the ground is different from the negative portrayal in the mainstream media.

The article demonstrates the key benefits of flexible working hours for employers, explains how flexible working is becoming increasingly prevalent and why working in this way appeals to the majority entering the jobs market. It also offers best practice advice on managing flexible working relationships and how to respond to the changing trends of employment in the UK.

"People increasingly want work when and where they want as opposed to traditional thinking on permanent employment contracts. 

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Flexible Working Hours Controversy:

A Media Fantasy

Flexible Working hours have been the subject of much controversy in recent years. They are frequently vilified by the media and have been debated at length in parliament. In 2015 Ed Miliband described them as “exploitative” and pledged to mandate minimum-hours contracts. However, a 2018 paper by Social Policy scholars Heejung Chung and Mariska van der Horst, suggests that flexible working hours are a win-win. They give workers the flexibility and work-life balance that workers desire, while the finding that “flexible boundaries between work and family may make employees work harder and longer” shows a benefit for employers too.

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The Myth of Negativity:

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) champion better work and working lives. Their policy report back in 2015 noted that flexible working hours have been singled out as “an especially unfair form of employment” and calls this “unjustified.”

The CIPD found that the negativity around flexible hours, as reported in the press, is simply not felt by blue-collar workers. They report that employees in temporary and flexible-hours jobs feel satisfied, with high levels of well-being. They also have good relationships with managers and colleagues.

The needs of both businesses and workers often fluctuate. Many sectors experience peaks and troughs of demand. Ensuring staff levels are high enough in times of demand, whilst avoiding overstaffing during quiet periods, is a fine balancing act for HR Managers, Talent Directors or Recruitment Officers. Staff themselves, meanwhile, lead complex, diverse lives, where the needs of home life often come into conflict with fixed-hours working.

Staffline have collaborated with many companies to help them change outdated employment models. These companies have found considerable success by using innovative flexible working models with their staff. With Staffline sharing best practice about flexible working, we’ve helped companies improve planning and execution. Successful, productive service delivery is always the result.

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Flexible Hours: Scoring Big Wins for Employers

Flexible working hours are about simultaneously meeting the needs of both the business and the worker. At Staffline we have a systematic and planned approach to promoting and supporting flexible working hours providing work for up to 60,000 people every day. During 2018 we extended our market leadership position as the UK’s biggest blue-collar recruiter providing over 80,000,000 hours of flexible work. Although this sounds a big number it still represents just 9% of the overall market share as the demand for flexible work from both employers and the working population continues to increase year on year.

The CIPD report found that 66% of employers experience fluctuations in workforce demand. Employees working flexible hours provide a dynamic solution to ensure that supply meets demand. Flexible working can also help to cover for staff sickness and holidays . Further, it can help improve the culture in workplaces by meeting the needs of employees and allowing for greater diversity.

Flexible working can reduce pressure on employees, leading to workers who feel less overloaded, with fewer detrimental effects on their health. The CIPD report shows that 62% of flexible workers are pleased with their work-life balance, compared to 58% of employees on fixed-hours contracts. Whereas in general 41% of employees feel excessive pressure at work 1-2 times per week, the amount is reduced to 26% for flexible-hours workers.

Statistics from the CIPD report show that 65% of staff on flexible hours, are very satisfied or satisfied with their jobs, which is slightly higher than the 63% rate among all employees. 94% of employees on flexible hours view themselves as part-time, and 91% state that it is their choice to work part-time as they choose to work when and where they want. Finally, it was demonstrated in 2013, by CIPD research, that when staff are happy and engaged they’re more likely to go the extra mile for their employer, making the workforce more productive. This is echoed by Chung and van der Horst’s 2018 research.

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Flexible Hours: Appealing Strongly to Employees

During my 20 years of working in the recruitment and employment industry I have seen a continual progression in the requirement for temporary and flexible working and during this time the industry has grown from £20 billion to exceeding £35 billion for the first time in 2018. Rather than being something negative that has been foisted upon the UK working population, flexible working is something that increasingly large numbers of people are actively seeking. The UK has reached record levels of employment which is accentuating this trend as people are becoming increasingly confident of their ability to find work that suits their personal circumstances – when and where they want.

The main reasons given and categories of workers seeking temporary and flexible arrangements are:

  • Personal Preference

One of the largest categories of flexible workers is those who find that choosing when and where they work is the best thing for them, for no specific reason.

  • Working Parents

With spiralling childcare costs to contend with, parents often find it beneficial to work flexible hours.

  • Self-employed

When trying to build their own business, many workers find it important to have the flexibility of being able to accept or reject work to fit around their own workflow.

  • Care responsibilities

When caring for ill or elderly relatives, it can be impossible for workers to predict when they will be available for work.

  • Workers with illnesses or disabilities

Employees may not be able to stick to a regular work schedule but value the independence that employment provides.

  • Preparing for retirement

Workers coming to the end of their career often find it much easier to cope with a downward slope rather than a cliff-edge. They may also want to supplement their pension with a little extra income to enjoy the benefits of retirement to the full.

  • Students

People in education will usually need an income to support them during their studies but have unpredictable spare time, making flexible working hours the only suitable option.

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The Myth of Contract Retention

Many employers believe that permanent contracts will help them keep staff in the face of competition. The theory is that it’s easier for flexible staff to leave if, say, a new company moves in across the street offering slightly improved terms. Our experience of recent years is that the levels of employees leaving across all types of contract is the same.

Another myth is that permanent contracts are more secure. Again, this has been shown to be false. If a business fails, all contracts are worth nothing whether they’re flexible or fixed. At Staffline we supply thousands of staff to 1,750 of the UK’s best-known brands. If any problems arise, staff can work with their Experience Manager to be redeployed elsewhere. In certain industries the outlook is challenging but, for flexible workers inside those industries, jobs can be more secure.

The reason for this is simple – contracts aren’t what make staff happy. Workers value being treated with dignity, in a good working environment, being provided with ‘good work’ . These factors are all dramatically more important when it comes to employee retention than the type of employment contract.

This is the reason that average service lengths are increasing year-on-year both at Staffline and across the “temporary” recruitment industry. With the UK enjoying record levels of employment, more people are choosing to combine job security with flexibility under a flexible-hours contract. This is especially true of the younger generation of workers who have a more demanding attitude to the purpose of an organisation, the type of work, their treatment by management, their ability to make a difference and progress their career. Flexible contracts can help them experience work across different environments and gain insight into various different cultures and industries to give them a boost on the career ladder.

Instead of thinking that they need to ‘tie employees down’ to permanent contracts, employers should look to how they can improve their workplace in terms of increasing employee welfare to create a more attractive proposition. This will make employee retention better across the board. A good workplace is a good place to work whether you’re working 4 or 40 hours a week.

During 2018 we noted some of our clients increasing the size of their permanent workforce by taking temporary workers on permanently due to their false preconceptions that this would further secure their services. Analysis since has shown that the transition has made no difference to retention and has also had an adverse impact on productivity as there is increasing evidence that individual and collective performance levels dropped after a worker makes the transition to the client’s employment. This makes sense to me and my team as we find that people who choose to work flexibly rely on the continual approval of their performance by the labour provider to ensure they ask them to return and they must therefore ensure their performance is notable in order to find work when and where they want.

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Best Practice for Flexible Working Hours

Staffline has extensive experience of working with businesses that employ staff with flexible working hours. This unique position has allowed us to develop exemplary expertise in enhancing productivity and workforce relations through HR best practice. Our key advice to all companies employing flexible working hours includes:

  • Ensure flexible-hour employees have a supportive manager.
  • Offer opportunities to train/develop skills.
  • Provide clear communication and keep staff informed.
  • Implement clear procedures, terms & conditions.
  • Reimburse travel expenses, and at least four hours pay to compensate, if work is cancelled at short notice.
  • Let staff know availability of additional hours. CIPD research shows that 70% of employees think employers are unable to offer any more.
  • Pay staff the same for doing the same job.
  • Allow flexible hours employees to work for other employers when there’s no work available, without exclusivity. This was made law in 2015 but is also the best retention strategy if you want them back.

Flexible working hours can be an optimal strategic business move that benefits the company and the employees.

As the working world continues to evolve, so the flexible workforce continues to expand. At time of writing, Staffline have over 56,000 employees working flexible contracts. That number is set to increase throughout 2019 as well as year on year as the trend heads in only one direction. With the UK employment sector worth over £35 billion in 2018, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation predicts growth for many years to come.

It's time, therefore, for the government and the media to embrace the fact that flexible contracts are working for people rather than against them. Following the lead of other countries by, for example, helping people on flexible contracts obtain mortgages, would be a good start. Ultimately, flexible workers, and their employers, need the government to show that it understands and values the flexible and permanent workforces equally.

To find out more about recruiting blue-collar staff on flexible working hours, and how it could provide you with the HR solutions to help your company to grow and thrive, contact Staffline and we’ll be more than happy to help you!

An Overview of Staffline:

Established in 1986, Staffline is now the UK’s largest recruiter and workforce provider, delivering OnSite workforce solutions to leading brands. We work in partnership with clients and candidates, meeting business needs and matching people with opportunities.

We specialise in large-scale recruitment, providing teams to help businesses succeed. Our support is flexible to meet changing demands.

We make the world of work simple, helping companies to find the right people and perform at their best. Our service and pricing are bespoke, and we offer complete protection on compliance and ethical standards.

Our OnSite services support a range of sectors including agriculture, food production, logistics, transport, manufacturing and the automotive sector. We’re based at over 400 sites nationwide and find work for over 60,000 people each day.

Our new technologies include the AI chat bot, delivering ‘always on’ communication, the Universe platform, a game-changing candidate interface, and industry-leading customer experience management programme ‘Have your Say’. These innovations drive our customer-centric approach. We lead where others follow.

The Staffline Group also includes leading public service provider PeoplePlus - which helps tens of thousands of unemployed and disadvantaged people find work each year.

Find out more at: www.staffline.co.uk

by Mark Underwood

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