Flexible Working – What is it good for?

Is it time for employers to embrace flexible working?

By Susan Cooper, Accutrainee Founder

Earlier this year, I was on a panel at the Law Society’s Gender Equality in Law symposium to discuss how flexible working can attract and retain talent. Listening to my fellow panel members – and to the questions that came from the audience – I was struck by the correlations between flexible working and greater diversity, inclusion, talent retention and employee engagement.

Many highly skilled people leave the workforce mid-career to care for children and relatives, thus creating a ‘diversity vacuum’ in many organisations. Yet by enabling people to remain in or return to roles on a flexible basis, businesses can help turn the tide and improve the diversity of their talent.

Flexible working can undoubtedly foster employee engagement and boost loyalty. A recent CIPD survey found that workers on flexible arrangements tend to demonstrate greater job satisfaction and are less likely to quit. Although there is evidence to suggest that up take of flexible working opportunities are being hindered due to the perceived negative impact on careers. This suggests there is still work to be done on developing genuinely supportive organisational cultures.

So what about Millennials, is flexible working important to them and should employers care?

Millennials (broadly those born between 1980 to 1995) and Generation Z make up more than half the world’s population and already account for most of the global workforce according to Deloitte’s 2019 survey on Millennials so any employer ignoring their wants and needs does so at their peril.

However, that should not be seen as a problem for employers. At Accutrainee, we speak to hundreds of junior lawyers and legal graduates – all Millennials – about their career goals and aspirations.

In my view, Millennials are much braver than previous generations, my own included. They have a greater ability to challenge the status quo. They are willing to nurture and protect a slightly different set of priorities. They want flexibility. They want to be trusted about where, when and how they do their work. They want to really enjoy their work and feel that they are having a positive impact on the goals of the business. They want to have a voice.

Company culture is important to Millennials. They want to work in companies with a clear and strong corporate social responsibility.

But over and above all this, Millennials are looking for a good, healthy work/life balance. And, crucially, they are not afraid to ask for it. Employers need to appreciate these wishes. If employers are unwilling to deliver these types of working environments, Millennials are also far more likely to jump ship.

As the legal world adopts new business models such as agile working and re-evaluates the law firms’ traditional pyramid structures, ensuring that flexible working is embedded into our culture will be absolutely vital in order to minimise the continual drain of valuable talent.

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