Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, swiftly followed by the current economic situation in the UK, an immense burden has been placed on staff in social enterprises. The vast majority of social enterprises exists in spaces that have opened up due to market failure. They are organisations that work within communities to serve the needs that local authorities and private businesses used to (or have failed to serve.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, social enterprises stepped up or stepped out to help communities. The result being that they had to work doubly hard to fulfil their missions. Now, with poverty on the rise quicker than ever before, these organisations face tougher challenges on resources and funding as they continue to help people in local communities.
It is great that we have so many local social enterprises to address market failures and help solve problems in communities. Indeed, social enterprises have been innovating for as long as they’ve been around, devising creative solutions for even the most devious of problems.
But in their desire to provide the most amount of support that they can, and in ensuring their missions are fulfilled, many social enterprises, like many private businesses, have been left with less space to invest in their organisational infrastructure and management practices.
As the third sector takes on more responsibility, it is difficult for organisations to create inclusive working practices within their organisations. But it is not impossible.
By its very definition, an inclusive workplace is one that makes every employee feel valued. It acknowledges everyone’s differences, and how these, when taken together, contribute the culture and outcomes of the business.
Which aligns closely to the definition of an inclusive economy too: it is an economy in which everyone feels valued, differences are acknowledged and one that everyone has a part in. That’s why inclusive working practices are a key component of creating an inclusive economy. If staff are armed with strategic, operational and financial transparency and clarity they can make better decisions.
Inclusive workplaces are transparent workplaces. They are open, collaborative, fair, accountable and curious workplaces where everyone is aware of their role, how it relates to the company’s mission, and where everyone has a say in setting their individual and team goals. The clue is in the title here: it includes everyone to ensure everyone feels they are making a positive contribution.
It also aims to create an environment where employees have access to the resources they need to do their job well. It gives them a voice, in turn allowing them to have a say on the decisions that impact their work. Those in senior positions work proactively to find a way to give employees a voice.
It also goes without saying that an inclusive workplace is one that accepts people for who they are and encourages diversity in all levels of the company.
Flexible working also plays a key part in this.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, ways of working had to change dramatically. If you weren’t furloughed or a frontline worker, you were working from home. This change had a massive impact on both people’s feelings about work and company cultures across the country.
For many, this has transitioned into “hybrid” working, meaning that working life is now more flexible. But what exactly do we mean by flexible working?
Simply, it can be defined as a working pattern that is not rigid 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday, in the one location. It offers employees more choice and control over their working life in ways that have been agreed with their employer.
When you think about this, office-based jobs no doubt come to mind. It is true that some types of work allow more scope for flexibility than others, but that doesn’t mean that office workers are the only ones that can adopt flexible working practices.
Indeed, truly flexible working is about giving people choice and control over how, when and where they work.
The Facts of Flexible Working
Pre-COVID19 about 73% of people worked flexibly. Since then, 84% of workers have or want flexible working. This includes people who have already had some flex and want more, as well as those that have never had flexible working.
Indeed, 1 in 3 workers in Scotland say they don’t work flexibly and many of these workers think that their jobs could be adapted in ways to make them more flexible. This can take many forms, be it forms of hybrid working, being able to swap shifts, make informal or ad-hoc adjustments to working times to attend personal appointments or for childcare, job sharing, flexible core hours and much more.
How Flexible Working Plays into an Inclusive Economy
Everyone’s personal circumstances, attitudes towards work and desire for career progression are different. It is not up to employers to question any of these, but rather it is up to employers to create an environment of equality so that, no matter how an employee feels about their work or career, that they can adopt flexible working practices that fit with their own wants and needs.
It can also be important to employee wellbeing. 70% of workers think that flexible working is good for health and wellbeing, with 45% of workers saying that they think flexible working has a positive effect on their family and personal life. It has been shown to reduce burnout and sickness too.
Simply put, flexible working is by its very nature inclusive; it allows employees to agree to a set of terms with their employer that is beneficial to both parties’ whist aligning with both their career and personal needs.
It can also allow for those with long-term health conditions and disabilities to gain not just jobs, but jobs they really like and want to succeed in. An inclusive economy aims to reduce inequality, and to do that, we must lead by example, and take steps to reduce inequality in our workplaces. Flexible working can be a powerful tool in helping to address this.
There is Work to be Done
Social enterprises are leading the way on creating inclusive workplaces. Indeed, Firstport gave us a great example of how they moved towards an inclusive (or progressive, in their terms) workplace. There are also many other examples out there, as was also demonstrated at our conference by Helen Denny.
And whilst it is great to see organisations already flying the flag for this workplace revolution, there is still some way to go. We can’t wait to see the results.
If you missed our Social Enterprise Policy & Practice Conference, the entire event, including the presentations discussed above, is available to watch for free on YouTube.