Flexible working: why boundaries matter

November 08, 2022

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently announced that 51% of employees are in hybrid or flexible working arrangements. Another 37% of employers have seen an increase in flexible working requests in the last six months.

With the backdrop of a highly competitive labour market and rising living costs, employers and HR professionals are keen to make workplaces as attractive as possible, with flexible working proving to be a driving factor in talent attraction and retention. Zurich Insurance reported a significant boost in successful applications and recruitment of more women into senior roles, since the launch of its flexible working approach.

However, research published by the UK Parliament, found that while flexible working offered employers and employees many positive benefits, it often carried numerous hidden and under-reported drawbacks.

The report concluded that ‘flexible workers’ were at risk of increased fatigue, less frequent social interaction, increased sense of social isolation, increased work intensification, and an inability to disconnect from work.

It found that flexible work environments led to work spilling into other spheres of life, leading to longer hours worked, with two thirds of employees reporting on the blurred lines between work and home.

Not only are work boundaries blurred, but workers reported concerns about a lack of adequate access to job-related education or training. The same report found that about 40% of hybrid workers were less likely to have received learning & development training, compared to non-flexible workers.

For junior employees, the risks of reduced learning & development are more severe, with 20% of employees noting a lack of learning & development opportunities causing them stress.

While many will argue the benefits outweigh the negatives, employers must recognise that without adequately establishing boundaries or setting clear expectations, they are at risk of exposing their organisation to unintended consequences.

By setting norms for flexible working, organisations can foster a managerial culture that enjoys the dividends of flexible working without accruing its risks. This includes setting ‘core hours’ throughout the day for client work and meetings, setting standards for communication, checking in with staff to monitor workload, and being open to conversations about employee wellbeing.

Collaborative conversations around boundary setting, can enable employees to become part of the solution to address workplace adaptations and managerial innovation, increasing a sense of belonging, cultural cohesion and HR modernisation.

Authors: Laurien Callens and James Moir