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Embracing Flexible Working

This article first appeared in SHD Logistics‘ April edition. 

While flexible working is becoming more and more recognised for its ability to help workers perform better and increase in confidence and morale, it is still highly uncommon across the logistics industry. However, with the perceived driver shortage, a focus on recruiting minority groups and an increase in new technology, there might just be an opportunity to change this.

Statistics provided by Timewise (2017) show how much UK workers want the option of flexible arrangements. 84% of male full-time workers and 91% of female full-time workers either currently work flexibly, or want to. Amongst these full-time workers, flexibility is either used or wanted by 92% of 18-34 year olds, 88% of 35-54 year olds and 72% of those aged 55+.

Looking more closely at the logistics industry, a recent article by the CILT (2018) revealed the impact flexible working could have on businesses. It stated that by 2023, the logistics sector could risk £516 million a year in economic output, if employers do not fully embrace flexibility. In light of this, UK businesses could generate an output of £22.947 billion per year through flexible working.

The main questions then become, can flexible working arrangements benefit both employers and employees, what barriers are stopping this, and how can we successfully implement this?

What are the benefits?

For employees, the benefits of flexible working are mostly focused on improving their work-life balance, and in turn looking after their health and wellbeing. Flexible working also reduces commute times and allows more time for leisure and study, which is most important among 18-34 year olds (37%) and also among those aged 55+ (32%).

Having flexible arrangements plays a major role in impacting positivity and productivity. Implementing flexible working practices such as working from home can improve staff engagement and motivation. We are living in a time where many roles do not require employees to be physically in the office every day to do their job, thanks to technology, and so when working schedules are tailored for employees, they are happier and more motivated as a result.

Practices such as hot desking, which is quite common with millennials, is something the logistics industry could tap into, as it allows workers to build bonds across the wider business, giving them the chance to better understand other areas of the business. By communicating better with more teams and departments, collaborating on future projects becomes much easier, allowing them to be more productive in their role.

It’s not only employees who benefit from flexible working, companies or organisations benefit too. In addition to increasing productivity, it can help reduce truancy and strengthen employee loyalty. On the HR side of the business, offering flexible working to returning workers such as parents coming back from maternity or paternity leave, or those coming back from a long-term break, can help attract and retain the experienced and skilled staff already there.

What are the barriers?

The lack of flexible working opportunities is often referred to as one reason behind women’s diminishing presence in senior jobs, let alone in logistics. The closer the corporate ladder gets to senior management roles, the more women fall off it. The lack of flexible working options, along with childcare costs, often prevent mothers from returning to work. This industry is known for its long hours, especially for drivers. Add working mums’ requests to work remotely and part-time to the mix, and you get gender imbalance as these requests are often denied more times than not, making it difficult to ensure more women advance in the industry.

As much as barriers are mostly seen in relation to working mums, working dads also face the same barriers. Enabling working parents and anyone else who has dependents to work flexibly is crucial to greater workplace equality and diversity. Essentially, a business wants to employ the best people, so working around their needs will likely offer more benefits.

Moving forward

Companies need to get ahead of traditional barriers, for example, the driver role is usually seen as one of the most inflexible role due to the long hours attached. With driver turnover being particularly high, offering shorter and more regular shifts could have a real impact on how the role is viewed. A culture change is highly needed, and logistics managers will reap rewards by being innovative and working on practical solutions, sooner rather than later.

Based on the economic output estimated to be lost due to lack of flexible working, the logistics industry should use research, insights and other sectors’ success stories to transform itself. This involves answering a number of questions: do we need office space, every day, for every employee? Could workers job share and be given more options to work shorter shifts when possible? Do we have the technology to enable employees to work flexibly? Once we’ve answered these, we need to create a plan to outline changes within the industry which accommodate flexible working and implement it. After all, companies’ fortunes are based on their ability to attract, engage and retain the best and talented employees. Offering more flexibility will help.

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