Flexible, mobile-enabled working is the antidote to “presenteeism”

Back in 2014, the government introduced legislation to grant every employee the legal right to request flexible working. The statements made by the then-deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, claimed that “modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow.”

Flexible working wasn’t really a new concept; it’s been around since the early 2000s but there wasn’t any systematic approach to implementing it within organisations so some benefitted from it, while others didn’t.

We might have been right to think back then that working from our local coffee shop would be normal by now, emailing our colleagues from our tablet computers in between collecting our children from school or attending a doctor’s appointment.

But fast forward to 2018 and, on the whole, progress has been somewhat underwhelming.

A brewing culture of ‘presenteeism’

In fact, research we conducted with YouGov has found a culture of ‘presenteeism’ – whereby employees feel that working longer hours at their desk is the best way to secure positive endorsement from management – is alive and kicking in British business.

Traditionally presenteeism is a term that refers to those who choose to work while sick and unwell or overly fatigued and therefore not operating to their usual level of productivity.

But this definition has now widened to encompass a generation of young people who feel they must persistently work longer hours and take fewer holidays to either impress their boss or because they fear losing their job.

1.2 million 18-26 year-olds have admitted to faking their workloads by staying late at the office beyond their contracted hours. This figure represents over two thirds (67%) of young professionals in the UK, which I found staggering.

Slow uptake of flexible working impacts young professionals the most

Overhauling a culture of ‘presenteeism’ at work also showed that 39 per cent of young professionals believe working away from the office could damage their career progression, while nearly half (41 per cent) feel their bosses favour staff who work over their contracted hours in the office.

Given the way most tech-savvy young professionals are geared up to work, it’s not surprising that this slow adoption of flexible working initiatives is impacting 18-26 year olds the most.

The truth is, Britain cannot continue to allow these desk-bound, outdated working practices to triumph in the digital age. They are out of touch with modern environments and lifestyles. Instead, we must equip new generations of young professionals with the technologies they’re accustomed to and empower them with tech-enabled workplaces so they can bring new skills to businesses.

We are therefore calling for enterprises to work with wider government and digital experts to build a workplace culture that helps, not hinders, employees to reach their full potential.

Technology plays a vital role in harnessing innovation and productivity

We invest in a tech-enabled workstyle in which our employees can hot desk and work remotely to cut down on travel and time-consuming process. The UK, particularly cities like London, Bristol and Manchester, are seen as global leaders in digital innovation and driving technology. Yet we have evidence that reveals employees are not benefitting from these technological advances on a day-to-day basis. In fact, within an organisation, it would appear that working practices are somewhat archaic.

Young professionals do understand the importance of this relationship between digital skills and success – nearly half (47 per cent) are calling for the government to connect employers with technology experts and a third (31 per cent) are calling for it to grant funding for the provision of technology to enable a more flexible workforce.

But it’s not just technology that will help businesses adopt a more digital approach. A cultural change of mindset [LINK to Article 2 Empowering people] is key to ensuring it resonates throughout the entire organisation.

The government should be educating employers more about the benefits of flexible working and we should all be clear on our obligations to provide access to this style of work.

Don’t fail the next generation of leaders

We cannot risk letting the UK’s digital economy stall by failing to enable the next generation to embrace their own tech-enabled workstyles. Only by freeing the country’s future leaders from the shackles of a ‘presenteeist’ culture at work can we truly foster wider innovation and positive change and go some way to realising those dreams of truly flexible working that we had back in 2014.

The drivers of this negative trend include economic uncertainty, pressure for profit and high levels of youth unemployment. But we cannot continue to allow these external trends to damage moral and working standards in British businesses.

Want to learn more? Fill in the form to the right to download your copy of our report, Overhauling a culture of ‘presenteeism’ at work, designed to help you ensure your younger employees reach their full potential.

Chas Moloney
Chas Moloney
Chas Moloney
charles.moloney@ricoh.co.uk