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Flexible working more important than pay in race for productivity

Simon Adcock, head of professional services for HSBC, explains why both recruiters and employers need to take flexible working seriously if they are to attract and retain the best talent

Back in the mid-90s, economist Paul Krugman famously wrote, “Productivity isn’t everything but, in the long run, it is almost everything.”

This sentiment has been echoed many times in recent months by economic commentators pointing to productivity – or rather the UK’s lack of it – as the root cause of our economic woes. Or, more specifically, how raising productivity should allow profits and wages to rise, boosting the economy.

Last month (January 2018) the productivity of British workers saw a rare rise but it is still way below the levels seen before the financial crisis in 2008 when productivity plateaued and has since fallen away, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This prompted HSBC to look behind the figures to see what businesses can do to address the challenge. The findings make interesting reading for recruiters aiming to not only provide clients with productive candidates who are more likely to be happy in their jobs but also, in influencing the companies they work for, to adapt clients’ ways of working to help them attract the best talent.

HSBC’s productivity study clearly demonstrates the huge importance workers place on flexible hours and work-life balance when considering their productivity in the workplace. The research into the views of UK workers and business leaders showed that nine-out-of-ten workers (89 per cent) believe flexible working motivates them to be more productive at work.

In fact, workers rate the opportunity to work flexibly as being more likely to motivate them, and ultimately increase their productivity, than financial incentives. What’s more, flexible working has become so important that almost one-in-five (18 per cent) cited a poor work-life balance as the reason for leaving their last job – ranking higher than limited opportunities for a pay rise. It’s therefore surprising that less than a third (30 per cent) of UK businesses offer flexible working to their employees.

Professional services leads the way

When you look at ONS figures on the productivity of various sectors and compare them to our findings, there is a clear correlation. The professional services sector is the UK’s most productive industry and is also the most likely to offer employees flexible hours with around a third (36 per cent) of employees saying it is available to them. Meanwhile, in the retail, hospitality and leisure industry, where one-in-four workers (24 per cent) are not offered benefits or perks of any kind (including flexible working), productivity is lowest.

The disparity between what employees say motivates them to be more productive and what they are offered is most apparent in the manufacturing industry. Here nearly all employees (91 per cent) believe the opportunity to work more flexibly would improve their motivation and productivity at work, but less than a quarter (23 per cent) have the option.

Productivity is, of course, not just an issue which recruiters need to be aware of when placing candidates for forward-thinking companies looking to hire the best talent. More and more recruiters are looking at their own productivity as a way of driving profitability and reducing staff churn.

The 2017 UK Recruitment Index from Deloitte and APSCo showed that the pace of growth within the industry slowed last year and suggested productivity had been impacted by the increase in staff moving between companies. Anecdotally, we’ve seen our recruitment customers taking steps to address this by investing in the kind of technology needed to enable staff to work flexibly, remotely and collaboratively with colleagues and clients.

Millennials and flexible working

The link between flexible working and productivity has a lot to do with the changing demographics, desires and ambitions of the typical workforce. This has seen many firms adapting the way they attract and retain talent to focus on millennials, who are predicted to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025 according to Deloitte.

As a cohort, they have become renowned for being motivated in the workplace by ‘softer’ benefits. Whereas previous generations may have hoped for a work-life balance, millennials expect it and the idea of controlling their own working hours and location is critical. Trust plays a big role in this and is very important to younger workers. Flexible working isn’t just what you might call ‘lip service trust’, it’s ‘true trust’ to be able to do your job diligently regardless of location.

Recruitment firms would be wise to heed the words of economist Paul Krugman, not only in placing the best candidates but also in improving their own performance.

For recruiters, productivity is definitely, almost, everything.

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

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