For many employees – and their employers – the pandemic will have been their first experience of working from home on a regular basis.
Pre-pandemic, some firms may not have thought to offer flexible working options – but with many now having vacancies they need to fill, flexible policies could be an essential part of attracting staff.
Of course, being flexible about where and when employees work isn’t practical for all employers, but many do now offer it as an option.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of private sector employers offer the opportunity to work from home, according to a report from Aviva. Two-thirds (63%) of these say the pandemic was the catalyst for this, and four in five (80%) plan to continue offering flexibility for the foreseeable future.
On the flipside, only half (50%) of employees surveyed believe their employer offers enough options to work from home – although for lots of people, it’s an appealing option, whether it’s to make juggling family responsibilities easier, cutting commuting or childcare costs, or simply to have a better work-life balance.
Over half (57%) of employees surveyed for Aviva feel working from home and flexible working makes them feel happier, rising to nearly two-thirds (63%) of women who were surveyed.
But, if you’d like more flexible working options, how do you broach the topic with your boss? Debbie Bullock, wellbeing lead at Aviva, believes it’s a good idea to think about what exactly you’d like to ask for, and consider things from both sides before starting a conversation.
“Flexible working doesn’t just mean where you work, like from the home or office – it’s more than that,” says Bullock. “If childcare is impacting your finances, you could speak to your employer about changing shift patterns to help cut down those costs.
“If you’re looking at ways to cut down your commuting costs, you could speak to your employer about flexible shift patterns, so you can travel at off-peak times on public transport,” she suggests.
There may also be knock-on benefits for employers. For example, just under half (47%) of employees surveyed for Aviva believe flexible working has increased their productivity.
However, nearly two-fifths (37%) of employers say working from home increases employee conflict (much higher than the 8% of
employees surveyed who feel the same way), suggesting there are challenges bosses might feel a need to navigate too.
“It is important that both employers and employees consider the impact these arrangements might have on all their colleagues,” notes Bullock. She says employees should bear in mind that their employer has a responsibility to all their staff – and what’s right for one person might not work for everyone.
And even if things don’t work out immediately, Bullock says it’s important to keep conversations going, as it might take time to adjust to new working arrangements.
“Employees could consider suggesting a trial of any new flexible arrangements. This helps to give managers and employees a chance to iron out any potential problems before committing.”
Many employees may also be worried about the current and future state of their finances as living costs surge. With inflation already high and expected to hit double digits later this year, many people are struggling to make their wages stretch.
“Financial worries can lead to stress and mental ill-health, which can impact performance. Employees need to feel safe that any conversations will be kept appropriately confidential and that they won’t be stigmatised as a result,” says Bullock.
“If you want to have a conversation with a leader about your financial situation, make sure you book the appropriate time in the diary to make sure they can dedicate the time to the conversation.
“If you can, articulate how financial concerns and worries are impacting your ability to perform at your best, and consider some solutions that might help. Before the meeting, try to think about solutions that might work for both you and the organisation.”
These solutions may potentially include asking about additional shifts, to boost your income in the short-term, she suggests.
It may also be worth finding out about career progression opportunities within the organisation, which could eventually lead to a higher salary. “Find out how you need to develop to get there,” Bullock adds.
Some employers may also provide external support, such as financial education, an employee assistance programme, or access to a financial adviser – so make sure you find out about these options too.