Flexible Working - a Career Trap or the Holy Grail?
From the rise of flexitime to homeworking, flexible working strategies are receiving some serious airtime in the auditing and accounting arena. With 63 percent of full-time employees already working with some form of flexible working arrangements, workplace flexibility is both in demand and on the rise.
Top tier companies are rolling out flexible working policies in conjunction with their diversity and inclusions initiatives and return-to-work and work-family reconciliation programs. Whilst these policies are a necessary talent attraction tool aimed at the likes of mothers re-entering the workforce, demand for workplace flexibility runs much deeper - spanning all ages, seniority and genders.
Yet, with the rise of this workplace flexibility companies are falling trap to subtle forms of discrimination and exclusion. When flexibility is used as a talent attraction method and not universally offered throughout a company, workplace hostility and inequality can arise.
A recent study by Deloitte and Timewise found employees working through flexible arrangements lack the bargaining power of other employees, even if in managerial positions. The research found many professionals working within such arrangements (mostly females), feel their career progression is disadvantaged and opportunities are in turn limited. In fact, of those surveyed, one-third felt they had “less importance” as a result of flexible working. Of this third, 92 percent were female. Lower pay and restricted benefit access were seen by flexible workers across the board.
Going further, a quarter of those surveyed felt they were overlooked for promotions and had fewer opportunities compared to their ‘traditional’ working colleagues. Many view flexible working as a barrier to progression and accept that senior positions will not be open, or as open, to flexible working as a result. Not attending out of hours work-related events was seen as another disadvantage for 28 percent.
This inequality funnels back to workplace culture with the attitudes and behaviours of senior management a major inhibitor to flexible working success. Whilst senior managers unanimously state their support for workplace flexibility at a surface level, the study found disconnect plaguing intentions for flexibility with their actual attitude towards flexible working. An attitude that tends to view these flexible workers as those with a lack of ambition. This disconnect leads to talented employees being overlooked and under-valued.
Despite perceptions, the benefits to flexible working are plentiful. Shown to drive productivity, diversity and reduce overheads, flexible working is in both employee and employer interest. Across all sectors, auditing and accountancy firms are best equipped to offer this flexibility due to the inconsistent nature of workloads. Experiencing annual busy and quiet seasons, there is a big opening for the industry to embrace flexible working arrangements.
Ingraining a culture of acceptance where flexibility is considered the norm is what jobseekers and employees seek. Companies who proactively encourage flexible working strategies need to show their support through top-down practices. Unsurprisingly, those companies choosing not to embrace this flexible working culture are already witnessing a decline in the calibre of talent applying for their vacancies.
Flexible working is the future of auditing. Those companies who choose to genuinely embrace flexibility will find the industry’s top talent attracted to their workplace. After all, the best candidates are looking for modern employers willing to fit the job to their lifestyle.