Flexible working patterns could attract graduates into business

By: Zoe Mitchell, head of human resources at Graduate Prospects
Published: Monday, December 17, 2012 - 09:58 GMT Jump to Comments

Generation Y are the fastest growing segment of the workforce and in the next 10 years are expected to make up the majority.

Graduates from this generation have historically been raised in economic richness, expecting everything to be handed to them on a plate. They have been less driven by salaries, caring more about flexible working patterns, work-life balance and having time to travel and explore personal interests outside corporate life.
But times change, and the speed of the economic downturn took industry by surprise and this has impacted on the way people view and behave at work. As a result, the graduate recruitment market has shrunk and unemployment rates are high.
With this has come a turnaround in perspectives. As student debt, housing prices and the cost of living have all increased, cash has become king and the importance of salary has been elevated.
It is the first real taste of bad times that this generation has faced and where they may have felt it appropriate to be demanding in the past, they have become more concerned with simply finding work and job security has become a much more important characteristic. In the short-term, benefits such as flexible working are less of a concern than they were previously.
For the immediate future economic growth appears to be weak, but it’s important that we keep our eye on the long-term perspective. Eventually tides will turn and if we are to learn from the aftermath of previous recessions, then a war on talent is likely. If businesses are to boast a diverse workforce and attract some of the best graduate talent moving forward, then they should consider benefits such as flexible working as part of their package.
Flexible working comes in many guises, from job sharing and working from home to condensed hours and flexitime. It offers the opportunity to have more control over how the day is spent and how work and life are divided up. It’s a chance to explore working patterns and activities outside of the norm of 9 to 5, and this is an attractive prospect for many people, particularly those who want to suit their own needs or have entrepreneurial spirit.
From an employer’s perspective, it helps with recruitment and retention of staff, and helps position a company as offering a caring environment and family friendly. It can also reinforce a flexible culture which works to benefit both employer and employee.  
It’s also a legal requirement and anyone can ask their employer to work flexibly. If an employee is caring for someone such as a child or elder relative they have the legal right to ask for flexible working. However, while an employer must seriously consider a request, it doesn’t mean that they have to agree to it.
While commonly associated with the fairer sex, the attraction of flexible working patterns isn’t just reserved for women or new parents. For some graduates, the recession has influenced the way they view work in a big way. Faced with a potential deep spell of unemployment they have become a new generation of entrepreneurs as they have been forced to find work in new ways such as setting up businesses, working freelance or building a portfolio career. 
Portfolio careers are a common phenomenon among this group, replacing the working hours of 9 to 5 with perhaps a corporate job in the morning, self employment in the afternoon and bar work during the evening. Working in this way allows time for enjoyment of other activities during weekdays such as sports, further study, hobbies or work opportunity, while at the same time paying the bills. 
It’s important that employers have an understanding of what each individual brings to the workplace and what engages them. We found in a survey of 14,000 graduates that the top three preferred flexible working benefits were flexi-time, time off in lieu and work condensed hours. We also found that dissatisfaction with work-life balance was one of the core reasons cited by graduates when they were asked why they may leave their employer.  
So what for the future? The large increase in the number of mums going back to work has meant more dads are stepping in to the childcare breach and have increased their role in family life. There has been a 200% increase in the amount of time that fathers are actively spending with their children, the number of stay-at-home dads has more than doubled in the UK over the last decade and more dads are requesting parental leave. Over the next decade I’d expect to see more men attracted to companies that offer flexible working as well as the number of requests starting to equal those from women.   
The dramatic growth in technology is said to be a major influence on Generation Y graduates and it has driven much of the trends towards flexible working with mobile devices and wireless connections providing the means to work anytime, anyplace, anywhere. The impetus on businesses to adapt is great and we’ve already received more requests from staff for technology to enable them to work remotely, and I envisage that this will become a norm rather than an exception.
For businesses looking to grow their graduate talent base there’s no doubt that flexible working is attractive to this group, but with it comes a whole new set of challenges. Smaller businesses can find introducing flexible working difficult due to the size of their workforce and larger organisations face similar problems if numerous people in a single team or department request to work flexibly. There’s also the question of how do I refuse one person when I have granted it to another?
It’s never easy to introduce change into an organisation, but if you are looking to create a diverse, happy workforce then flexible working should at least be considered. A well considered policy that has both the interests of the business and its staff at its core should prove beneficial to everyone concerned regardless of generation.   



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