Motivating, rewarding and retaining employees is not always easy.

We’re continually told that a ‘career for life’ has little relevance in today’s working world, and that the expectations of Generations X, Y and Z differ widely in terms of staff benefits and an attractive EVP.

Increasingly, surveys that crop up about staff benefits or employee engagement suggest that the less tangible staff benefits are more desirable that material rewards. ‘Employees would rather more annual leave than a bonus!’ or ‘Flexible working is 2nd best workplace benefit’ are two examples off the top of my head.

In a world where we can be connected to our colleagues 24/7, when holidays are no longer email-free and when we can manage a project via our mobile, people are seeking employers who care about facilitating a positive work-life balance, and benefits which can make this a reality.

Flexible working is often bandied about as a ‘perk’. We fear this label is easily misunderstood. Flexible working in its purest form is more than being able to choose between a ‘duvet morning’ or an ‘early finish’ (where hours can be changed to 09:30 – 6:00pm or 08:30 – 5:00pm).

Its scope is greater than ‘core hours’, whereby a degree of rigidity still remains as employees need to be in the office between 10am and 4pm, as an example.

So how would we define flexible working?

Truly agile working practices are deeply embedded within a company culture. They exist to make a work-life balance more practical for all team members, but have been developed to also make business sense.

They’re sustainable practices because they are supported by (and in turn support) the business’ operating structure. They are not abused because they are integrated into the business’ culture of trust, transparency and respect. They are not a tick in the box. They are not based on legislation and immovable frameworks.

Flexible working cannot remain the remit of one champion. It has to be viewed as a core company value. Everyone from Apprentices to Directors needs to buy-in to the practice and to promote it positively. This means line managers adopting the same attitude as company leaders and demonstrating care and acceptance. It means team members respecting the freedom and flexibility offered to them and not taking advantage.

Can we have an example of flexible working pactices in a ‘real’ business context?

A number of the Hireserve team regularly work flexibly; some because of their families, others due to a long commute. Both full and part-time team members utilise flexible working.

One team member – let’s call her Jo (we don’t have a Jo in the team yet) – has a young family. She works part-time: 20 hours a week spread across two days in the office and one at home. When she started working with us she was only working two hours a week, but as the business has grown and her children have started school, she has increased these. Occasions arise when Jo’s children are poorly, or there’s a school event. Jo runs it by one of our Directors and can swap her days around in the office, work remotely that day or come in later/earlier.

We believe in trust. We have utter faith that Jo – that all our team members in fact – will rearrange their priorities as necessary and will still deliver to the business. The immediate impact on the business is often hardly felt in these instances, save for an internal meeting rearranged or similar, but for Jo that small gesture of trust and flexibility means she can watch her son come second in the Year 3 relay.

The longer term impact, of course, is that Jo feels valued. She feels that we share her concerns around childcare and balancing work and family. Flexibility is a mutual benefit and, if we need to ask Jo to come into work earlier than she usually would for an important event, she wouldn’t hesitate to do so.

And what are the benefits of ‘true’ flexible working?

Flexible working practices can engage and motivate a team. It can aid staff retention, as valued employees are more likely to remain loyal to a company, as well as benefiting from a practical work-life balance. It can enhance talent attraction, as promoting oneself as a flexible employer can attract a wider pool of experienced working parents seeking flexible opportunities .

The effect of flexible working will be individual to your business and team members, but ultimately, if an employer cares, employees are more likely to care too, resulting in a more motivated and loyal workforce, combined with a very happy, genuine and relaxed company culture.

Want to define flexible working practices and their impact? It’s not really so much about words. It’s more about Jo’s face as she watches her son bounce up and down and wave at her from the finish line.

Find out more

Discover why we’ve won awards for our approach to flexible working

Read our piece on true agility in Flexible Boss magazine

Meet Archana and read her case study (no, she’s not Jo!)