The Institute of Management’s Karen Charlesworth on how flexible working can help your career and your firm.
The pattern of working practices across all business sectors has been shifting to meet market and personal needs. A flexible approach to work will become increasingly important in the new millennium. The Institute of Management’s 1998 survey, A Workstyle Revolution? shows that a growing number of organisations are seeing this as the way forward, with positive benefits for both sides.

What has led to this change?

Economic, technological, social and demographic changes have contributed. About one in eight of us is now self-employed, and the number of temporary workers grew 40% between 1988 and 1998. Advances in IT and telecommunications allow us more freedom as to where, and when, we work. Today, 64% of families with children have both parents working, and women now account for half the workforce. People rarely stick to one working pattern throughout their lives.

What are the main types of flexible working?

It is clear from the institute’s research that UK businesses now use a variety of methods to enhance flexibility. Part-time working (66%) and temporary staff (61%) dominate the flexible labour market. However, the survey also found that there are significant levels of newer forms of working, such as fixed-term contracts (49%) and job-sharing (28%). Less common practices include teleworking (9%) and interim managers (7%).

One global commercial organisation that took part in the IM survey admitted that its new labour policy had been prompted to a degree by headcount control, which involves balancing business needs with staffing requirements. Its solution was to establish three main categories of worker: permanent full-time; permanent part-time (including those on fixed-term contracts and contractors working under management supervision); plus the more conventionally outsourced services.

What is the value of flexibility?

About one in eight of us is now self-employed, and the number of temporary workers grew 40% between 1988 and 1998

Flexible workers offer firms personal strengths and organisational benefits. Managers agree that the personal strengths include adaptability to change (63%) and specialist skills not otherwise available (52%). Only 16% of respondents said flexible working does not fit within the prevailing culture.

What about the future?

The trend to flexible working practices will grow significantly over the next three years at the expense of permanent employment. Looking at overall employment levels within their organisations, the survey respondents predicted a rise in part-time workers of 44%, and of 31% for both temporary employees and those on fixed-term contracts. For permanent employees, they predicted a drop of 3%.

How could I introduce flexible working?

First, secure the commitment of top management. This includes reaching agreement with senior staff on the extent of flexibility, and having a committed individual at senior level to drive this process forward. Then a profile should be drawn up of the existing workforce and their current hours.