Research summary

Flexible working - the context

Flexible working can be used to describe a range of ways of working. It can include flexible practices in the hours worked, the place worked or the type of contract used. All employees in the UK now have the statutory right to request flexible working.

There are a range of ways that organisations approach flexible working - this can be said to exist on a continuum; the Accommodation approach at one end, where the needs of the employee to work flexibly are accommodated by the employer, and the Agile approach at the other end, where the organisation introduces flexible working to help achieve its business objectives.

Flexible working practices can allow employees to balance their life with work. There is evidence to suggest that organisations can save money through flexible working by reducing staff turnover and absenteeism, as well as increase productivity, recruiting from a wider talent pool and increasing employee engagement and commitment.

Current picture at the University

All staff now have the right to request a change to their work pattern, but it is difficult to get clear data on how many staff are already working flexibly at the University.

Academics by nature have more flexible contracts, regularly work from home, or spaces other than their own offices, and often outside of a traditional 9 to 5 day. Academics tend to make requests to change their working pattern through the annual Teaching Restrictions arrangements in their own Colleges.

Flexitime has generally been adopted within most central and some College-based Professional Services teams. There is also a widespread practice of ad hoc homeworking in Professional Services, particularly amongst more senior grades of staff. Professional Services staff who have made a successful request to work more flexibly generally report that this supports their work-life balance and allows them to focus on important pieces of work.

Currently, flexible working policies and practices are applied differently in different areas. We have policies and limited guidance on flexitime and homeworking, but we do not have any guidance that covers other types of flexible working, such as compressed hours or job sharing. This has led to some inconsistency and a concern about parity.

What are other organisations doing?

There are varying practices in flexible working outside of the University. Many other universities adopt an Accommodation approach to flexible working, where flexibility is driven by the needs of individuals. Additionally, universities we spoke to reported no clear objectives for encouraging flexibility and were not really measuring its impact.

In contrast, there are some large multi-national organisations, such as BT, Vodafone, National Grid and Unilever, who have moved to agile working, where flexibility is driven by the organisation in an effort to meet business needs (such as reduced office overheads, better productivity, increased collaboration and better retention of staff).