Good news for workplaces offering flexible futures

Businesses who fail to offer flexible working options could pay a higher price in the long run.

We all live busy lives, with many people juggling childcare with full time work, while struggling to squeeze in some increasingly rare 'me-time' in the quest for work-life balance.

One way to get everything done and still keep our sanity can be found in the promise of greater workplace flexibility.

More options around working hours might make sense for employees, as well as having ethical benefits when it comes to gender diversity, but how does it benefit businesses?

One answer to that question might be located in a collection of relevant findings by Morgan Stanley research.

Changing times need new solutions

Flexibility in the workplace is more than a step forward in terms of diversity and an improved work-life balance - it could also have a positive flow-on effect for the business sector and the broader economy.

A number of studies by various corporations and consultancies have shown how flexible working conditions are being increasingly demanded by employees.

In Australia, government research shows that 70% of full time employees want to work some of the time at home.

Employers are increasingly finding ways to be accommodating, through a range of options including varied hours or offering the opportunity to work remotely. For those who fail to listen, however, there could be a negative impact on share performance.

The benefits for business

Flexible working schemes were one of 14 indicators in Morgan Stanley's Global Gender Diversity Composite, which assesses approximately 1600 developed market companies on their overall gender diversity.

Incremental evidence from the Composite shows an ongoing trend for underperformance among companies who fail to offer flexible working options. Analysis of the findings notes that, while companies offering flexible options haven't outperformed the index, those companies that don't offer flexible working have underperformed the MSCI World for the last six years.

Globally, Morgan Stanley has identified a steady increase in the percentage of companies offering flexible alternatives to their employees. There are, however, marked variations across different sectors.

The telecommunications sector contains the highest number of companies offering flexible working (66%). Technology, Healthcare, Real Estate and Consumer Discretionary all have fewer than 40% of companies offering such schemes. iii

Australian statistics on diversity

  • In Australia, most likely category to make a flexibility request are women with pre-school aged children.

  • 80% of employees say they will stay longer if employer allows work from home.

  • 70% of full time employees want to work some of the time at home.

  • 64% of Australian couples with dependants, both partners employed in 2016.

  • 52% of employees would forego some pay for greater workplace flexibility.

  • New data from the 2016-17 dataset of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that almost seven out of ten (68.3%) employers now have a flexible working policy and/or strategy. That is an increase of 10.8 percentage points from the Agency's first year of reporting in 2013-14.

Note: Findings and analysis from the Global Gender Diversity Composite revealed no evidence of a material difference in Return on Equity between companies with and without flexible working benefits.

For information on investing ethically in businesses and corporations that have a commitment to gender diversity, please contact your Morgan Stanley Financial Adviser.

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