The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) recently conducted a survey looking into the comparable benefits and drawbacks of flexible working versus the traditional 9-to-5, five days a week.

Flexible working is a phenomenon that has swept through UK businesses. The majority enjoy the control they can exert over the hours the work, and the destination they work from. Many have claimed that it has increased their levels of productivity.

AAT’s study investigated the productivity of a group of workers who can set their own hours and working location, versus a group of workers who does not.

The accounting body has revealed that those who have more control over their working lives benefited from feeling happier and less stressed. However, those who took part in the study admitted to missing out on the workplace social life and feeling lonelier as a result.

19% of flexible workers who took part in the study said that they had enquired about the option to do so in their very first interview for a job. They cited that they wanted to be able to balance home and family life with their workplace obligations when asked why this was a question they posed to the interviewer.

“Employees are more likely to be able to choose to set the hours they work – 47% reported this – than choose the location they work from, which just on in five (19%) are flexible in,” AAT continued in their report.

A further breakdown of AAT’s study results revealed that 38% of flexible workers felt happier, 35% less stressed, and 36% had more time to spend with their families. Interestingly, 27% stated that they worked longer hours in the new flexi-routine than they did when “shackled to normal office hours”. On average, they revealed there to be a seven hour increase in productivity.

Olivia Hill, chief HR officer at AAT, said: “Flexible working has a huge number of benefits for employees and employers alike.

“In this connected world, all many people need to work is a laptop and a stable internet connection, which can be found in many places other than the office environment.”

Furthermore, 15% of flexible workers in AAT’s study said that they did not believe they had been as productive when working traditional hours.

“It seems employers are also becoming more likely to allow flexible hours, as well as flexibility with location – assuming that, as long as the job gets done, it doesn’t really matter when and where it happens – the most important thing is strong levels of productivity,” Hill continued.

38% of respondents in the accounting body’s study had been presented with the option to adopt flexible working—three quarters of that number admitted that this is a key perk to their current job, with 73% revealing that they would be reluctant to leave their current place of work if their new role did not offer the same flexibility.

The report continued: “Despite the many benefits, the study also shows that working flexibly can have its downsides; 18% of respondents worry that working flexibly means they have less opportunity to engage in workplace social life and events, 15% said it made them feel more lonely, 14% said they feel guilty for working for conveniently than their colleagues, and 13% are concerned they may be passed over for promotions or other work responsibilities, as they are out of sight and potentially out of mind.”

One person AAT spoke to when carrying out their study is Julie Hodgskin. She works three days a week as a chartered accountant. This has allowed her the time to teach at her local university and also run her own accounting practice over the past three years.

She said: “I asked whether I could work flexibly in my first interview with my workplace. Working flexibly is offered company-wide, so they were happy with my request and made time to discuss it. I don’t feel that there are any downsides to working flexibly for me; I like working alone sometimes, and sometimes I like being involved with people, this way I get to do both.

“I feel that working flexibly has allowed me to widen my horizons and develop transferable skills, and that it has made me more desirable as an employee. I also feel that I work harder in my flexible working routine than I did before.

“It has made me more loyal to the organisation I work for, and I think even my colleagues are happy for me to pursue flexible working hours. I can’t see myself returning to a more standard work routine in the future.”

Hill concluded: “It’s worrying that many flexible workers feel that their colleagues see them as work-shy or feel that they may be passed over for promotions. For this to change, flexible working has to become more accepted and commonplace in every work environment.

“Allowing flexible working helps organisations keep a diverse range of employees, because they are able to balance their work and other commitment in a way that works for them. Many employees, especially younger people, now prioritise having a good work-life balance when looking for a job, so organisations offering flexible working will have a better chance of attracting and retaining them.

“The UK works some of the longest hours compared to our European neighbours; however, our productivity is lagging behind. Flexible working results in, not only happier, but more productive employees. The business case for flexible working really does add up, but there will need to be a cultural shift for it to be embraced and embedded more widely.”

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