Flexible working practices and mental health.

Since 2014 employees in the UK have had the right to request flexible working, once they have been working for their organisation for twenty-six weeks. Flexible working is defined as any working pattern that fits an employee’s needs more closely than traditional working hours, and can involve having variable starting and finishing times, working compressed hours, job sharing or working from home.

Whilst there is resistance amongst some employers, there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea among the workforce, with seventy percent of workers agreeing that the ability to work flexibly would make a job more attractive to them, and forty percent claiming that they would choose flexible working over a pay rise. What is more, many forward-looking employers are increasingly seeing the benefit of offering flexibility around how, when and where employees work, both for mental wellbeing and productivity.

Whilst flexible working has conventionally been seen as a response to practical and logistical challenges faced by employees who are parents or have other caring responsibilities, awareness is growing of the impact of mental health issues on people’s working lives, and how flexible working can play a crucial role in tackling these challenges.

A recent survey found that over one-third of employers actively offer workload reviews and flexible working options to support staff with mental health issues. Mental health charity Mind outline some of the advantages of flexible working for those with mental health issues, including avoiding busy commuting times when anxiety can peak, creating more sustainable work-life balance, and having time available during the working day to attend medical appointments. Having said that, flexible working is not just for those with mental health issues – everyone benefits.

Some organisations are taking even greater strides, recognising the potential for flexible working practices to benefit not only employees but the company as a whole. These organisations are placing employee wellbeing at the heart of their corporate culture and seeing results in terms of satisfaction and productivity.

Organisations like M&G Investments (winners of 2017’s WorkingMums.co.uk Family Support Award) and PwC have launched networks to promote wellbeing and flexible working at work.

A worldwide survey by Vodafone, another company which has been recognised for its innovative flexible working practices, found that eighty-three percent of companies that introduced flexible working policies reported increased productivity and sixty-one percent saw their profits go up, so clearly embracing flexible working practices can be seen as a win-win situation for both employers and employees.

Well-managed flexible working practices have the potential to help organisations respond proactively to the challenge of mental health issues in the workplace. Cerulean is now running a range of half-day training Cerulean Mental Health at Work Workshops 2018 focusing on mental health at work which you may find useful when exploring how to manage flexible working effectively for the benefit of both your staff and your organisation.