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Are FS firms doing enough to promote flexible working?

05 / 03 / 2019

Flexible working is a key consideration for many people who are weighing up their career options. What was once thought of as an attractive perk is now increasingly expected among employees and is a prime motivator for jobseekers looking to switch roles.

A 2017 PowWowNow study revealed 30% of employees would pick flexible working over a pay rise if they could only choose one. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) staff feel they would be more motivated if they could work outside the office, and two-thirds wish they had more flexible working options.

 


But is this the case for the financial service industry? Are professionals satisfied with flexible working arrangements at their workplace? And what do we even mean by 'flexible working'?

Let's examine the UK's flexible working trends and see what impact they are currently having on the financial services industry and its professionals.

Flexible working in the UK

The PowWowNow study only appears to have measured responses in relation to working from home. However, flexible working encompasses a far broader range of practices, including:

  • Part-time hours; 
  • Job-sharing; 
  • Flexitime; and
  • Career breaks and sabbaticals. 

The most common form of flexible working is part-time hours, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Nearly one-quarter of employees worked part-time hours in 2016, up from just 4% in the 1950s.

Flexi-time and remote working are also becoming more popular. There was a 12.3% rise in people on flexi-time between 2012 and 2016, Office for National Statistics data shows.

Meanwhile, Trades Union Congress research shows the number of remote workers has climbed by 241,000 over the last decade. A third of business owners now believe up to half of their staff will be working remotely by 2020.

The majority of workplaces now offer these types of benefits. Timewise research found 63% of full-time employees have access to some form of flexible working. The most common reasons for wanting these arrangements include:

  • A better work-life balance; 
  • Convenience; 
  • Commuting issues; 
  • Wishing to pursue leisure and study interests; and 
  • Caring responsibilities. 

However, a separate Timewise study found flexible work opportunities appear to plummet as salaries increase.

While one-fifth of jobs advertised at between £14,000 and £19,999 a year explicitly mention being open to flexibility, this figure drops to just 6.9% for people earning over £80,000 annually. The Timewise figures also show just 7% of finance and accounting jobs that are advertised as offering more than £20K a year FTE mention flexibility as a perk.

Does this mean financial services employers are missing a trick when trying to attract the best and brightest talent to their organisations?

The reality of flexible working in financial services

Traditionally, the financial services sector has a reputation for long hours, with high wages and bonuses meant to offset a challenging work-life balance. Professionals have also needed to be in the office to use on-site technologies, work trading floors, handle customer data and perform a number of other tasks central to their roles.

Innovative remote working technologies and other secure platforms are helping millions of employees enjoy more flexibility, but a recent study compiled by My Family Care and Hydrogen Group indicated the financial services sector may be lagging.

The research showed 59% of finance and accounting professionals could work flexibly to some degree, compared with 66% of UK employees overall. More than one-third (34%) of the nation's workforce said they can work remotely at least one day a week, but just 17% of financial services staff said the same.

Our own research recently revealed that a better work-life balance is a key motivator among corporate governance professionals. Across risk management, in-house legal, compliance and internal audit, an average of 71% of professionals have flexible working options.

However, 70% would like even more opportunities to work flexibly. In fact, an average of 18% of professionals across the four disciplines chose a better work-life balance as their main reason for changing jobs in 2018. This could mean that many organisations are offering flexible working, but the available options are insufficient to meet workers' needs.

What are the benefits of flexible working?

HSBC research has shown that nearly 9 in 10 employees believe flexible working is a key motivator to their productivity levels in the office. Interestingly, only 77% said financial incentives were crucial to performing better.

This trend appears to be borne out by geographical data. HSBC found that the most productive areas of the UK - London and the south-east - are those where flexible working is more available. In these locations, 30% and 32% of employees, respectively can work flexibly. In contrast, Wales is the least productive area in the UK, and only 18% of staff in the country have flexible working options.

 


"Today's workforce wants a better balance between their work and home lives, and companies that are recognising and making provision for this are creating happier and more productive workplaces, which in turn is translating to the bottom line," said Amanda Murphy, Head of Commercial Banking at HSBC UK.

In addition to productivity gains, flexible working could also help organisations to remove barriers preventing more women achieving senior positions. The PowWowNow study showed 34% of women would prefer flexible working benefits to a pay rise, while just 26% of men said the same.

By failing to promote flexible working - both during recruitment and as an ongoing part of day-to-day company culture - businesses could be failing to attract and retain the best talent for the future.

Promoting flexible working in financial services

The onus will be on employers to be more proactive regarding flexible working. More than one-third (35%) of finance and accounting professionals feel uncomfortable discussing the topic with their bosses, according to the My Family Care and Hydrogen Group report. Some staff may simply choose to look for another job rather than broach the issue.

Survey respondents said financial services is an industry where employees may appear less committed to the business if they request flexible working arrangements. Nearly three-quarters (72%) claimed those who can work flexibly are seen as having an 'easy life'.

 


This may sound pretty bleak, but many financial services firms are making significant strides towards offering staff a better work-life balance. The Top Employers for Working Families 2018 Benchmark Report provides a top 10 of organisations that are the most committed to family friendly policies and practices:
  • American Express
  • Barclays Bank
  • Crown Prosecution Service
  • Deloitte
  • Independent Living Fund Scotland
  • Intellectual Property Office
  • Lloyds Banking Group
  • Pinsent Masons
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Southdown Housing

As we can see, financial services organisations comprise roughly half of the employers on the list. Clearly, employers within the industry are beginning to recognise some of the benefits that flexible working can bring, both to staff and the wider business.

Broadening the scope of flexible working

The Top Employers for Working Families report is encouraging, but the financial services organisations listed are almost exclusively retail banks. Other areas of the industry are not as well represented.

Research we've conducted echoes this trend. Our latest Risk Management Market Report showed 70% of risk professionals across all industries have the opportunity to work flexibly. But while 80% of retail banking respondents have flexible working, this figure slumps to 63% in both corporate & investment banking and private banking & wealth management.

These industries have generally been able to attract talent through better remuneration packages and prestige, even if flexible working was limited. However, as technology evolves and disruptive fintechs offer an increasingly attractive proposition, some industry segments may need to adapt if they wish to continue competing for the best talent.

After all, greater work flexibility is already a win-win for employers and staff, leading to happier, more motivated and productive professionals, while also creating diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Would you like to discuss your recruitment needs for 2019? Perhaps you are a candidate looking for more flexible working opportunities in your next role? I'd love to hear from you, so please contact me on 020 7936 2601 or via email at kq@barclaysimpson.com.

Image credit: Bench Accounting via Unsplash
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