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Why charities need to offer better flexible working options

Posted on 4/10/2018 by Matt Adams

Work life balance

Flexible working has traditionally been seen by charities as a ‘nice to have’ benefit, of interest only to certain groups of employees such as mothers of young children. However, there is now far more evidence that shows flexibility is something that all employees expect, regardless of age or gender. Employees are also far more willing to vote with their feet and change jobs, or even accept a pay cut, in order to get more flexibility at work.

Flexible working is becoming an increasingly hot topic and has been in the news a lot recently, with unions calling for a four day working week and a YouGov survey suggesting that only 6% of UK employees still work a traditional 9 to 5 day. Flexible working was also discussed at the Institute of Fundraising’s 2018 annual convention as a way for charities to attract and retain the best fundraising talent.

It’s becoming increasingly hard for charities to find and keep the staff they need to fulfil their remits. The latest IHS Markit/REC Report on Jobs has shown that there are more and more vacancies across the UK, with fewer available candidates to fill them, which is causing starting salaries to rise. But if you’re a squeezed charity struggling to pay competitive salaries, you’ll need to offer other incentives to fill your roles effectively.

The results from TPP’s latest salary survey, results to be published shortly, show that, for the third year running, flexible working is the benefit most valued by job seekers, and we’ve seen an increase in the number of candidates we interview who are happy to accept lower pay offers in exchange for more flexible working options. Offering greater flexibility at work could be the tool that charities need to compete in recruiting the best talent.

The current picture for flexibility

At first glance, charities may seem to offer better opportunities for flexible working than the corporate sector. After all, 36% of the third sector workforce are part time employees, compared to the 26% of the total UK workforce who work part time[1]. However, while charities might be good at providing flexible work on a case by case basis, they are less effective at rolling out options for flexibility to the workforce as a whole.

The third sector is particularly lagging behind in those flexible working options that require some technical support, such as working from home, as their IT infrastructures often struggle to cope. However, working from home is an option that is particularly requested by jobseekers, with 87% of our survey respondents saying it could entice them to apply for a job.

The corporate world is far ahead in terms of true flexibility, and some companies such as PwC allow all new staff to choose the working pattern that suits them best. The Virgin Group offers its employees unlimited holiday allowance. UK service provider Compass Point Business Services has moved to a Results Only Working Environment (ROWE) approach, where staff are paid for results, rather than number of hours worked. These schemes are offered to all employees, rather than agreed to on request. While there are some examples of innovative flexible working within charities, such as the annualised hours contracts offered by the National Trust, it’s clear that the sector needs to catch up if it wants to continue to be able to recruit qualified employees.

Types of flexible working

The most common forms of flexible working offered by employers are:

  • Flexitime – allows employees to vary their start and finish times and take longer lunch breaks, usually around some set core hours.
  • Part-time work – working fewer hours for an equivalent reduction in pay on a permanent basis.
  • Job sharing – two people share the responsibilities and pay of one full-time job.
  • Compressed hours – working the same number of hours as full-time, but in a shorter time span, eg four longer days and one half day.
  • Home working – working from the employee’s home, either on a regular or ad hoc basis.
  • Annual hours – employees work longer hours in busy times and fewer hours in quieter periods of the year
  • Term-time working – employees only work during school term times to avoid holiday child care
  • Voluntary reduced working time (V time) – an agreed temporary period of time where an employee works fewer hours with a corresponding dip in salary

Why charities need to invest for flexible working now

Enabling flexible working does often require a certain amount of investment, eg in hardware and software to enable working from home, but there are some substantial benefits to be gained, including:

  • Better staff morale, higher levels of job satisfaction and reductions in sickness absences and travel delays, all of which lead to greater productivity
  • Greater flexibility within the workforce to react to changing conditions or to offer extended operating hours
  • Efficiency savings, such as fewer overheads when employees work from home or reduced office space required
  • A more diverse workforce that better reflects your beneficiaries

Having the option for your staff to work remotely is also a great contingency plan in case of office shutdowns, transport strikes or bad weather. Where once the whole organisation would grind to a standstill in an emergency, now employees can keep delivering vital services.

However, the key benefit to third sector organisations right now will be the ability to dramatically widen your pool of potential employees. The workforce demographic is changing rapidly; an ageing population means many more people will choose to work past the traditional retirement age but will probably prefer to work reduced or flexible hours. And young, tech-savvy graduates entering the market expect the flexibility to work when and how they want as a given. Offering increased flexibility can also open roles up to applicants from other countries or who are not able to commute.

Flexible working is increasingly becoming the norm, rather then the exception, and charities that set themselves up to take advantage of this revolution earlier will have a head start in the increasingly difficult race for talent. While it may seem daunting to build a truly flexible working strategy from scratch, some options like flexible hours or extended holiday cost virtually nothing and can deliver immediate improvements in retention and recruitment that can help a charity save the money it needs to invest in the technology it needs to enable further flexible working opportunities.

If you’d like more information on how your roles can attract the very best candidates, get in touch with TPP Recruitment today.