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A new book reviews the most recent research on flexible working and assesses take-up and the impact on performance.
More focus needs to be put on flexible working which is mutually beneficial to both employers and employees, according to a comprehensive review of recent research.
In their new book, Flexible working in organisations: a research overview, Clare Kelliher and Lilian M. de Menezes explore the latest studies which show the benefits of flexible working may vary in relation to context and type of flexible working and that a complex nexus of issues are important when it comes to getting the most out of different ways of working.
They emphasise the need to distinguish between flexibility for employees [for instance, to improve work life balance] and flexibility of employees [for instance, flexible working designed to increase employer efficiency] and say that where flexible working can be mutually beneficial is where the wider benefits may be found. They write: “Gaining greater efficiency and organisational agility, coupled with the longer-term benefits from increased organisational commitment and job satisfaction, could yield significant organisational benefits.”
The book studies areas such as the availability and uptake of flexible working and outcomes of flexible working arrangements, including its impact on organisational performance.
It points out that, while flexible working has spread with greater informal flexibility being offered to some employees, different occupational groups have different access to flexible working, for instance, those in lower level positions in companies have less control over their schedule and location of work. Research suggests various factors affect take-up, including line manager and co-worker support, IT infrastructure, the nature of the work being done, the position of the employee, lack of normalisation of flexible working and the general business climate. The authors also cite research which suggests that employees need to be more aware of their rights around flexible working.
The jury appears to be out on whether flexible working increases or decreases performance. The authors point out that this is a complicated issue, for instance, while some studies show remote working negatively affects innovation and collaboration, some creative types may prefer to work alone.
The authors also say that research on the performance of flexible workers needs to take into account bias towards formal flexible working which might affect how people assess performance.
They make an important point about wellbeing, saying more research on how flexible working affects wellbeing is necessary as an increased sense of wellbeing could impact performance.
They also look at ways to mitigate some of the drawbacks of different forms of flexible working, particularly remote working. They say technical fixes such as work platforms that address isolation, procrastination and the perceived stigma of working from home could help as could line managers’ response to remote workers as well as how flexible working is implemented by an employer.
The book calls for research to move beyond a focus on professional workers and to include gig workers, zero hours workers and those with multiple jobs. The authors would like to see more studies on the impact of informal versus permanent flexible working arrangements, supportive vs unsupportive climates and equitable vs inequitable flexible working and they are keen to see more data on whether employees’ responses, including their performance, changes as flexible working becomes more embedded and normalised. They say more research is also needed on regional differences in approaches to flexible working and variations in flexible working for people at different levels of organisations.
*Flexible working in organisations: a research overview by Clare Kelliher and Lilian M. de Menezes is published by Routledge.