Often the real reason why flexible working levels in Ireland are below international norms is because Irish bosses cling to Dickensian work ethics and still like to see their employees clock in and out. DOIREANN McDERMOTT looks at reasons why company heads in Ireland should embrace the 21st-century world of work.
If there’s a silver lining to the recession, it’s that smart companies are beginning to turn time into a tool to attract, retain and engage high-performing talent of both sexes, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her December 2009 New York Times article ‘Making Flex Time a Win-Win’. So what are the win-win elements to a more flexible working approach? What advantages are there to both employers and employees if they adopt a less traditional work environment?
Cuts the commute time
It is clear that by working from home it eliminates time wasted commuting to work. This can create more productive workers by giving employees the opportunity to devote quality time to their work. It also means employees can work around their own schedules, not only allowing more freedom of movement but also alleviating stress. Flexible working means workers can avoid an early morning start or avoid getting stuck in rush-hour traffic. This provides bosses with happier, less stressed and more focused employees.
Every employer’s dream company involves happy, highly-motivated and productive staff. Flexible working arrangements (FWas) allow employees to work around their own schedules, enabling them to have a better work/life balance. That means happier employees, which in turn means higher productivity. Offering FWas are an attractive alternative to companies who want to increase employee benefits, but are still feeling cash-strapped and are not in a position to offer the huge bonuses of yesteryear.
Reduces company cost
Flexible working has real tangible benefits for employers, as it helps create a cost-efficient company, saving large sums on office space and other overheads, such as electricity, office equipment and housekeeping costs. Thus home-based employees offer lower start-up costs. This, in turn, encourages entrepreneurship.
Not only is commuting cost-efficient, it is also impacting on the future of the entire planet. Each kilometre travelled and each car manufactured adds to the destruction of the environment. Employers would be creating eco-friendly companies by embracing flexible working. Cutting carbon emissions is detrimental in reducing the hazardous effects of climate change.
Flexible working means that workers with children have more flexible hours to drop them to crèche or school. Working in a home environment means employees are in a place they are comfortable and they do not have to worry about family or home matters while at work. It also gives them greater flexibility to deal with home matters in their chosen hours, allowing them to focus better when working. This again creates happy and productive workers.
Decrease in absenteeism
The Society for Human Resource Management’s June 2009 study Workplace Flexibility in the 21st Century: Meeting the Needs of the Changing Workforce reported that companies with formal FWas saw an increase in employee morale and job satisfaction paired with increased employee retention, increased productivity and a decrease in absenteeism.
Savings in non-productive management cost structures
The more educated employees are, the less formal management structures are required, as they are in Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ striving towards ‘self-actualisation’ and are therefore self-motivated to willingly strive for excellence in their work output. (Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed in his 1943 paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. Reduced layers or management hierarchy, resulting in a flatter management structure, can provide considerable savings in non-productive costs. In such circumstances, the employee is motivated towards goal accomplishment and not the tangible rewards of salary, bonuses or other perks which in management speak are mere ‘hygiene factors’.
Promotes a relationship of trust between employee and employer
Workers who feel trusted are usually highly motivated and therefore more responsible for their workload. Good employee relations establishes a level of trust where a more productive work environment can be nurtured and trade unions are less effective or indeed, in the proper context, not likely to be required. In such circumstances, industrial action, breach of employer-employee trust, loss of customers to competitors and associated other losses due to downtime can be avoided.
Better recruitment choices
Having a flexible work environment will also give an employer an edge in recruiting top talent, and can actually increase office coverage, and reduce office space and overhead expenses. And Heaven forbid, your office or building falls prey to a natural disaster, the company’s workforce will already be trained to operate outside of the workplace.
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