Are young professionals being excluded from flexible working?

Eight in ten British millennials feel unable to ask for flexible working, fearing criticism and judgement from their bosses.

Following recent reports which show the UK falling behind in the global drive for flexible working, new research from Michael Page reveals that more than eight in ten (84 per cent) office based millennial employees do not work from home in an average working week – with 82 per cent of those saying they are not able or allowed to. The findings come despite three quarters (76 per cent) of UK office workers confirming that their employer does offer flexible working options.

The research – conducted among over 1,000 UK office workers (+18) – questioned the reality of flexible working across the UK today, especially for young professionals or ‘millennial’ workers, aged 18-27. The results suggest that for this group of employees, flexible working remains largely out of reach:

  • Six in ten (60 per cent) millennials who have worked (or have asked to work) flexibly have felt judged or penalised for doing so
  • Of those, just under half (47 per cent) have felt judged by company management or senior leadership
  • Two in ten (20 per cent) millennial respondents have been actively refused flexible working options by an employer, despite asking

Such instances are adding to growing sentiment among younger workers that flexible work is less a right – as outlined by the government in 2014 – and more a ‘selective benefit’ for a choice group of employees. Two thirds (67 per cent) of millennials believe employees with families are more encouraged to work flexibly than their single colleagues, and six in ten (61 per cent) say the same applies to senior co-workers, suggesting that junior team members more often discouraged from flexible working initiatives. Nearly half (43 per cent) say it is a benefit reserved for management and senior leadership only.

Future FL-Xibility

Oliver Watson, executive board director for UK and North America at PageGroup, comments, ‘There is a clear and increasing demand for flexible working options among UK employees, especially from the newest generation of workers. As this ‘Generation FL-X’ continues to enter the workplace, businesses must prioritise accommodating the expectations of all employees, and challenge the old school stigma that still appears to prevail.

‘Placing restrictions on flexible working – encouraging or excluding certain employees – is counter-intuitive. Truly flexible working should be open to all, indiscriminate of age, gender, seniority or role.’

The findings also reveals that the reality of flexible working for young professionals is at odds with their expectations:

· More than half (59 per cent) of 18-27 year olds believe flexible working should come as standard
· Yet, three in five (62 per cent) point out that their ability to work flexibly hasn’t improved – or has worsened – in the last 12 months
· 45 per cent acknowledge there is a disconnect between what flexible benefits their business currently offer and what they actually want, need and expect

Watson continues, ‘For flexible working to really move forward in the UK, employers must shift their thinking from presenteeism to productivity. By empowering employees to take charge of their productivity – something 46% of respondents called out as a benefit of flexible working – businesses will not only be rewarded with increased employee loyalty, but a much more efficient workforce and a high trust, high performance culture.’

Further reading on flexible working

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