Most articles about flexible working follow familiar templates. Either there has been a new survey that shows how most employees value flexible working above almost anything else. Or, there has been a piece of research that confirms that flexible working benefits employers. Work-life balance is restored, productivity goes up and wellness ensues. No longer are Britain’s workers destined to neglect their families, their hobbies and their health, or to miss Sports Day and the nativity play. With the trend finally taking hold, you can imagine that a consultancy like ours would be used to helping our candidates to negotiate flexibility into their contracts. Surprisingly this rarely happens for our permanent placements.
Is this symptomatic of a bleak reality in Financial Services? We don’t think so. Well-known banks, including some of our clients, regularly appear in the “best companies to work for” lists presented by the likes of Glassdoor and The Sunday Times. Lloyds Banking Group, whose chief executive António Horta Osório famously took time-out for stress, is just one example of a bank that has strived to achieve the highest standards of colleague well-being.
Driven by a need for end-to-end security, banking led the way in providing remote access for its workers. This enabled origination staff to stay closer to their clients but also paved the way for others to work from home as the trend towards flexibility started to emerge. In the investment end of banking, mandatory, fixed-hours attendance at an appointed location remains as prevalent as it is in manufacturing or engineering. However, the Finance Sector has a relatively healthy median rank for flexible working options. So why does the topic so rarely come up at Healy Hunt? We have identified four key reasons:
This year’s TimeWise report showed that flexibility is inversely proportional to salary. Whereas 21.2% of job adverts for roles earning less than £20k openly offer flexible working options, for those at £80k+ it’s only 9.1%. Our services deliver impressive candidates who have already made strong progress in their career journeys and who include senior executives whose packages run well into the six-figure range. The average salary of our permanent placements is positioned in the salary range that is least disposed to flexible working.
Despite the efforts of HR departments, a culture of presenteeism continues to pervade some areas of The City and people still “bleed to succeed”. This can be counterproductive, take the example of a sales team that would achieve more out in the field rather than being forced to attend an office every day. However, in the right team environment, with access to the necessary people and resources, it can be entirely appropriate. A big part of flexible working is about employees being trusted to choose the most productive way to get the job done based on personal preference. If the most productive option is to collaborate face-to-face with colleagues and clients in the state-of-the-art facilities that the company provides then high-achievers accept that long hours of attendance come with the territory and generally embrace it.
London is the least flexible employment area in the UK based on job adverts with only 9% offering flexibility. This can sometimes be irritating if you commute using Southern Rail. Despite the transport challenges, London is an amazing city to work in and the vast majority of our roles are based here in the Capital. Working in London is a lifestyle choice in its own right and we believe that this will remain the case whatever the political upheavals of 2019 bring. It may not be the healthiest option for an entire career but a period working in The City is rarely reflected on with regret.
Healy Hunt work with candidates who have made successful choices to advance their careers with many having attained senior positions. These career minded people are open to change and aware of their environments. They realise that the first 100 days in a new role are a key period for building relationships, putting early achievements under their belts and establishing strong reputations. Flexible working can come later. Legally, anyone who has worked for a UK employer for 26 weeks has the right to ask to work flexibly. High flying staff who wish to start this conversation may do so at a time when they have established a successful track record and identified opportunities for mutually beneficial flexibility based on active experience in the role, thus giving themselves a strong negotiating stance.
This is not an anti-flexible working article. We recently showed our support for World Stress Awareness week and believe that more balanced working policies drive greater benefit for all concerned even in the medium term. Strategically, companies know that flexible working, a term that encompasses, part-time, working from home, flexible start and finish times, remote working, term-time, job-share and annualised or compressed hours can benefit them in four main ways:
- Encouraging employee ownership
- Attracting and retaining top talent
- Demonstrating value for workers’ wellbeing
- Boosting productivity.
From creative industries to professional services to recruitment, our employment culture has led to a position where senior staff have to split their time between delivering client work and driving new business while still managing their teams and meeting the increasing requirements of compliance. The inflexibility of the nine to five can look like a luxury when the reality is a 15-hour daily multi-tasking blur with emails punctuating every hour of the day.
As employment moves into a new generation, people are starting to aspire to a more balanced lifestyle and this perspective is becoming more prevalent further up the corporate ladder. Between 2016 and 2018 the £80k+ salary range, although still ranked low for flexibility in new roles, has seen the most dramatic increase in positions advertised with flexible working options from the outset. We believe this is a healthy development and expect to see human resources strategies evolving, justified by established bottom-line benefits.
As seekers of rare resources, we can see the value in recruiting an industry-leading candidate for three days a week or inviting a star performer to work remotely when appropriate. We will continue to support the strategic HR policies of our clients and will monitor changes in working practices with interest from our objective position in an industry whose demanding nature isn’t likely to change any time soon.