Flexible working: the way to keep staff happy and boost productivity?

Talk to media executives about the major challenge brought about by the digital economy and some will talk about securing lines of revenue with new tech products while others will fret over replacing print revenues with online display.

How many, do you think, will worry about how their firm adapts internal practises to suit the next generation of employees and, in turn, to help it secure the best talent?

Well, if the findings of recent reports by EY, Deloitte, and PWC are accurate, then perhaps more should.

By 2025, the generation born between the late 80s and early 90s (so called Millennials) will number three out of every four employees across the globe.

This generation has often been portrayed as entitled and narcissistic, but a global EY study on work/life challenges across the generations pours cold water on this theory (as does the Atlantic, regularly).

The EY study found that despite a common assumption of aimlessness, this younger generation simply requires a degree of work/life flexibility that a number of employers – for one reason or another – are unable to meet.

But instead of the attitudes of these employees changing to suit their bosses and work situations, the EY study suggests employers need to align themselves with the needs of staff or risk losing them.

Why is this? Well, it’s interesting to note that a further study (this time by Deloitte) outlines how forward-thinking employers are accommodating this need for greater workplace flexibility because a ‘loyalty challenge’ exists between millennials and their employers.

It seems young staff often place flexibility as a higher priority than loyalty to their employers and are prepared to vote with their feet to find a firm that meets their idea of what a working life should be.

But what exactly does greater flexibility mean?

It’s certainly true that it means having the option to work from the sofa, in your pyjamas, but beyond this, according Forbes, referencing a Stanford study, it means activity encouraging a good work/life balance, encouraging personal development and, importantly, focusing on outcomes, rather than the tiresome processes that tend to clog up the office day – and further research by PWC finds almost the same.

“Give them the freedom to have a flexible work schedule,” says a PWC report on managing Millennials. “Does it matter if they work from home or a coffee shop or wherever if that’s where they are most productive? Set deadlines and if they meet them, don’t worry so much about their tactics and the time they clock in and out.”

The knock-on effect of any move toward greater flexibility could mean businesses having to invest in technology that enables seamless access and even a reorganisation of teams, work patterns, and physical locations. That sounds like quite a change. So why is flexibility important?

Well, says Forbes, a flexible worker is a happy worker who achieves more, takes fewer sick days, and works longer hours. Not only do younger generations see it as a prerequisite, it can also benefit a business directly.

So, time for an important question: is the benefit reaped from encouraging talent to your firm and having staff work better (and happier) sufficient to make the changes this will entail seem worthwhile?

Well, if a recent study commissioned by Vodafone is correct, the answer is: yes.

“In one of the largest global workplace surveys of its kind, 83 per cent of respondents said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity,” reported the CIPD, quoting the study.

“Results from the research with 8,000 global employers and employees… also showed that 61 per cent said it had helped increase company profits… SMEs in particular had been overwhelmingly convinced about the business benefits of flexible working.”

There is, of course, a final point to consider: office space. If a media business employees 300 people and half work flexibly, is there any real need for an office that can seat them all? How much rental money, do you think, it could save with a London office for 150 or 200 rather than 300?

In the final reckoning, that could be as significant a reason for encouraging flexible working as any other.