There has been massive upheaval in working arrangements in the past few years. We’ve gone from lockdowns and furlough, through the ‘Great Resignation’, to a full-blown recession — all of which have impacted on employee/employer relationships and expectations.

For many employees, remote and flexible working are now essential rather than ‘nice to haves’ when considering their career path. However, having weathered the pandemic, employers say they now face an economic crisis, while also navigating the evolving workplace landscape and new demands from their employees.

Recent research conducted by YouGov and Spendesk, which looked at the attitudes of finance workers in urban areas in the UK, suggests a potential difference in opinion between organisations and their workforce when it comes to working arrangements. But how can the findings help employers avoid conflict with employees when creating a harmonious but productive working environment?

Four-day working week

Make no mistake, remote or hybrid working and flexible hours, such as a four-day working week, were of great importance to the employees surveyed. More than three-quarters (77%) of workers would like to see this new structure implemented.

It seems, however, that many employers aren’t prepared for arrangements of this sort. According to our respondents, there’s a very low rate of companies allocating budget for flexible working (5%), which clearly indicates conflicting priorities between both parties.

However, the four-day working week is gathering momentum in other countries. Belgium, in a bid to address work-life balance and increase employment rate, has voted on the bill ‘deal pour l’emploi’ that includes a shorter week as part of a directive for employers to offer more flexible hours to employees. It’s not written into Belgian law yet, but it seems it could be heading that way.

For companies considering implementing the four-day working week, or looking at how it might impact their business, there are actions that can be taken to help with the transition:

  • Extending the number of hours worked per day — starting work earlier or ending later so that the total number of hours worked per week remains the same over fewer days
    ● Flexible scheduling: Allow employees to choose which days they want to work, as long as they still meet the required number of hours per week
    ● Remote working: Allowing employees to work from home one or more days a week, may also mean they can work more flexible hours; not tied to commute times or office opening hours
    ● Prioritising productivity: Focus on getting the most out of your employees during the four days they are in the office, by setting clear goals and providing the necessary tools and resources
    ● Teamwork and collaboration: Encourage employees to work together and share responsibilities, which can lead to greater productivity and job satisfaction.

It is important to note that it is not only necessary to have a plan and implement it, but also to evaluate the results of the change and adjust accordingly.

Current challenges

At the time of writing, the UK’s Public Bill Committee has completed work on the ‘Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill’, which provides for “the right of employees and other workers to request variations to particular terms and conditions of employment, including working hours, times and locations.”

In short, if passed the bill will give employees the right to ask for flexible working from their first day at a new job. Flexible working arrangements are therefore not just a utopian idea, but a potential legal obligation for UK businesses in the near future.

Our research with YouGov found that while there is widespread satisfaction with current provisions, there are several challenges workers see with how flexible arrangements are implemented today. Firstly, almost a fifth (19%) of finance workers felt pressured by employers to come into the office more often. This rose to a third (33%) in the London region.

In response to this added pressure from employers, one third of the UK respondents said they would consider leaving their current job if they were forced to go back into the office full time. That’s a sizeable chunk of the workforce.

Another recurrent theme to come out of the research was issues with communication. Despite how workers feel about returning to the workplace, employers would probably point out that a quarter (24%) of respondents to the survey said they have had communication issues because of remote working.

Employees could also voice their own gripe with company communication, citing a lack of information from employers about the provisions around home or remote working — 35% said they don’t know what these arrangements are.

In the current climate, UK businesses will want to ask themselves: how successfully are we dealing with the expectation of new flexible ways of working? Do we have the right processes and technology in place? And how well are we communicating this with our staff? Consulting with employees is a great place to start.

For the best results, businesses should actively involve their staff in the decision-making process. Surveys or focus groups can be used to gather feedback from employees on a wide range of topics, and provide a forum for employees to discuss specific issues. Appointing employee representatives to represent the views of their colleagues is another way to ensure that all voices are heard.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that employees are informed about the changes and decisions that are made, and that their feedback is taken into account. Communication and transparency are key in this process.

Financial implications

Like most things in life, money is a major factor in any business’ decision-making process.

There are financial implications around remote workers getting paid less at a time when they are needing pay rises to match inflation. The YouGov research revealed that a sizeable 77% of finance workers think that those who work remotely should be paid the same as colleagues who frequent the office more often.

Furthermore, 80% of employees believe they should have a higher salary to compensate for cost-of-living increases, but only 21% said their employer was looking at ways to combat inflation by increasing compensation.

Of course, the cost of overheads for businesses like office space and IT infrastructure, especially to accommodate flexible working, is only increasing. Therefore, the situation isn’t quite as black and white as some workers might imagine. However, a workforce willing to quit over conditions isn’t something to sweep under the carpet.

It’s been an interesting time for hiring new staff with companies struggling to attract talent. Finding and recruiting the right people has become expensive both in time and money, so UK businesses will need to consider how they approach the growing need for flexible working arrangements, if they want to bring in and retain the right employees in the long term.

Paddy O'Neill
Country Manager UK & Ireland at Spendesk | Website

Paddy started his journey at Spendesk three years ago as the company's Sales Manager in the UK and Ireland. Since then, Paddy has been promoted to the Country Manager for the region and is now responsible for leading the team which he’s helped grow from 1 to 53 in just two years. In his multifaceted role at the company, he works alongside a variety of customers, from startups to well-established companies.