Flexible working is a phrase that is thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? The Government defines flexibility at work as follows: “As long as employees are still receiving their minimum entitlements, employers and employees can negotiate ways to make their workplace more flexible. Examples include changing what hours are worked and where work is performed.”

In its Fair Work Act 2009, the government states that “employees in the national workplace relations system have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements.”

Despite this guidance however, and while a large number of businesses have now implemented flexible working policies, it remains something of a taboo subject. Whether it’s fear of being seen as ‘slacking’ when working remotely or from home, or simply confusion over who flexible working policies are for, there is still a lot of work to be done to democratise flexi-working policies.

For the latest generation to enter the workplace this needs to happen fast. If companies want to attract and retain ‘millennial’ talent and maximise the productivity of not only them, but their entire workforce, they have to get flexibility right.

Introducing Generation FL-X

Millennials and Generation Zers – those aged 18-27 – are often talked about with mixed sentiment; on the one hand acknowledged as being a group of digitally-savvy, institution-shunning self-starters, and on the other, as having increasingly high demands and expectations of almost everything.

Where flexible working is concerned, this up-and-coming group of young professionals are fast establishing themselves as members of a new generation of worker: Generation FL-X. 

‘FL-Xers’ have experienced the workplace differently to older generations – baby boomers or earlier Generation Yers – and have very different expectations of their employer as a result.

While those older than 27 may be used to the traditional 9-5 structure, our latest trends research revealed that over half (59%) of Generation FL-X expect flexible working to be offered by all employers, to all employees, as standard – rather than being seen as a benefit or perk.

Almost 8 in 10 (79%) also felt that the ability to work flexibly would be a fairly or very important consideration for them come 2020. Coupled with reports predicting that by this time millennial employees will make up 50% of the workforce, the need for businesses to listen and respond becomes crucial.

How flexible is flexible?

Legal right or not, our research revealed that – on the whole – flexible working isn’t all that flexible for our future leaders.

84% of Millennials said they did not work flexibly or from home in an average working week, despite 76% of all respondents confirming that their employer does offer the option to do so. When asked why, 82% said they were not able or allowed to do so – and 20% had even had requests refused by employers.

Flexible working for all may sound great in theory but in practice 60% of Millennials surveyed said they have felt penalised or judged for using this ‘right’.

Instead, flexible working appears to remain a ‘selective benefit’ for certain employees – with around 6 in 10 saying senior staff (59%) and those with families (65%) are encouraged to work flexibly more than their juniors or single colleagues.

What Millennials really want

When we asked which flexible benefits Generation FL-X wanted to see employers offer in the next five years, flexi-time was the most popular answer (67%), followed by ‘flexi-place’ (57%), and compressed work weeks (54%). Time in lieu (49%) and career breaks (41%) were fourth and fifth on the most-wanted list. Separate studies have even shown that 18-27 year olds would choose flexible working options over an increase in salary.

In a digital age that’s ‘always on’ and for a nation of people who are constantly battling to find a work-life balance, flexible working can make a huge difference to workers of all ages. If the disconnect between what employers are offering and what employees need can be resolved, the UK workforce has the potential to be more productive (leading to increased revenue) and feel more content with their chosen career paths. 

For employers looking to keep pace with global trends and meet the demands of an ever-changing workforce, flexi-time and ‘flexi-place’ policies could be the secret to gaining and retaining millennial talent for the future – after all, if employees feel empowered working for a company who is willing to be flexible, they are likely to be more engaged, more productive and more inclined to see a long term future with the company.

Summary

Talking about our generation…of flexible workers, means understanding the needs of those coming into the workforce, namely Millennials and Gen Z. Flexibility might be seen as a “right” but it’s one that is barely exercised for a variety of reasons. Yet flexibility is the main thing the younger Generations want from their employers and is the secret to retaining them. 

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