Guest blog by Rebecca Harper, Gorvins Solicitors
Are UK workers ‘working too hard?’
It says a lot about our working habits that a national “go home on time” day was deemed necessary. The unofficial holiday occurs on 5th October, and while it may seem like a fun concept, on par with National Doughnut Day (2 June), or Run It up the Flagpole and See If Anyone Salutes It Day (2 January), it highlights a growing problem. In the UK, we’re all working far too much. When we compare working cultures from around the world, the UK falls behind in the average number of hours worked per week. Brits clock an average of 36.5 hours per week, while workers in Germany average just 34.5 hours.
Many workers value flexible working above a pay rise
There is hope on the horizon for weary workers. Flexible working is set to be the biggest change to working culture since the arrival of the two-day weekend. Those who insist on playing devil’s advocate complain that flexible working leads to an increase in workers never switching off. However, there’s evidence that we’re all doing this anyway, whether we’re taking advantage of flexible working or not. The resounding cry from the pro-flexible working camp seems to be that it really does make a difference to worker morale.
In the UK, every worker has the right to request flexible working arrangements once they have been with the company for 26 weeks. Their employer has to give their request proper consideration, and they can only reject it for a number of select reasons. While there is still a long way to go to encourage all companies to adopt flexible working practices, research suggests that over 70 percent of UK businesses will offer flexible or mobile working by 2020. For businesses that want to save money, this could be an incredibly shrewd move, as research has shown many workers value flexible working above a pay rise.
Not everyone can work from home – but not everyone can spend all day in a cubicle, either
Not all industries are suited to flexible working. Surgeons, for example, would likely be struck off for carrying out their work from home. But for the office workers commuting 90-minutes to an office every day just to sit in a cubicle, what is keeping them in the 9-5 rut? The benefits of flexible working for the employee are fairly obvious. We work best when we’re in an environment that makes us comfortable. For some, that might mean working from a coffee shop surrounded by the buzz of the city. Others might be most comfortable at home, caring for their children. It’s this choice that allows workers to flourish and do their best work. Even just removing the daily commute can help claim back a large chunk of the day.
Flexible working goes beyond wifi and a laptop
Flexible working doesn’t have to mean setting up your laptop anywhere you can find a decent wifi signal. It can encompass a multitude of working arrangements, from job-sharing to flexi-time, a firm favourite among millennial office workers. The benefits for businesses are well-documented. Job sharing allows the company to hire two skill-sets for the price of one, while flexi-time allows businesses to extend their office hours without forcing anyone into incompatible shifts. When it comes to allowing workers to work from home, this can help to cut business overheads, such as heating and lighting.
There is still a long way to go in changing attitudes towards flexible working, and some have even raised concerns that employers are exploiting loopholes in the law that allow them to force individuals who request flexible working into self-employed contracts. The gig economy debate has raised some interesting questions about the way technology is disrupting the traditional employer/employee relationship. A report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee revealed that some employers were duping workers into thinking that becoming self-employed was the only way to maintain their flexible working status. While being self-employed is a great way to create your own work/life balance, it also means that individuals lose certain perks, including sick pay, holiday pay and minimum wages. It seems like an unfair trade for the ability to work from home or finish early to make the school run.
Flexible working isn’t going to swoop in and save the day, but it might encourage more workers to save themselves. Working smarter, not harder is a mantra that seems to be taking some time to settle in. Technology is at work in the background, making mundane tasks a thing of the past. Now it’s our turn to start reaping the benefits and make 60+ hour working weeks a thing of the past.
About the author
Rebecca Harper is a freelance writer contributing on behalf of Gorvins Solicitors.