The introduction of flexible working is one of the most positive HR stories of recent years. So what should you be doing as an employer? And does flexible working actually work in practice?
What is the reality?
Despite flexible working now being available to all employees after 26 weeks service, in reality large numbers of the working population are being told it is not operationally possible, and face harsh resistance from their managers.
My experience of flexible working in a large corporate after the birth of my daughter was certainly not a positive one – I found myself doing 5 days’ work in 4 and was constantly made to feel I was less committed to my job than my full-time colleagues, which I found offensive. Being a mother with childcare responsibilities did not make me less committed to or invested in my role. This is a story I have heard countless times from other mothers in this position and was definitely one of the reasons which influenced my decision to become self-employed when the opportunity presented itself.
So how can we overcome these barriers?
The case for flexible working has never been clearer – flexible working can take the form of differing working schedules, shorter hours, job sharing, virtual working, and home working. The Labour party recently announced that should they return to government they would introduce flexible working from day one. Currently the 26 week wait to requesting flexible working is definitely a barrier to flexibility.
People want to work flexibly for many reasons. Flexible working is often regarded as being solely applicable to mothers (generally not fathers!) with caring responsibilities.
These are the mindsets we need to change.
There are many reasons why people want to work flexibly – caring responsibilities, financial reasons, lifestyle, work life balance, wellbeing. These reasons are all equally valid.
If employers wish to attract diverse skills and talents, allowing for flexible working crucial in creating an inclusive workforce.
Many of the current barriers come from mindsets of work driven by old paradigms – we need to challenge these barriers and make flexible working an accepted norm.
As an employer, you can train managers on how to fairly manage diverse teams, and the difference in how, where and why they work. If your organisational culture doesn’t see flexible working as adding value, any policies you have in place won’t work.
The CIPD now encourages the use of “happy to talk flexible working” in job adverts to attract a diverse pool of applicants and this is definitely something I will be encouraging as an HR consultant when I advise the organisations I work with on recruitment.
Lucy Adams, author of “The HR Change Toolkit”, outlines the classic example of when companies apply a typical HR approach to something, and then are upset when it doesn’t work. Adams thinks that organisations tend to treat employees as children – they have to file an application and then their managers decide whether they’re “trustworthy”.
But if we have recruited these employees, surely it should already be established that they are trustworthy? In order to transform the way we work and create a workplace that benefits all employees, we must be prepared to challenge our mindsets, existing biases and paradigms. For instance, the furniture company Made has adopted “everyday flex”, where employees determine their own start and finish times – this increases work life balance, personal choice, and enables employees to be as productive as they can be.
When designing jobs, consider how they will work flexibly.
Challenge what your organisation looks like and how you work – this is the key to happier, more loyal, more engaged employees.
If you need support with implementing flexible working, contact us!
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