Flexible working… this is a term that has many meanings and all of which seem to be used simultaneously within any one organisation, much less within an industry. The term is used to mean anything from working term time only, part time, setting core hours, working from home to agile or activity based working. This is why it is critical to not only involve HR in defining these terms within an organisation, but it is also critical for an organisation to articulate clearly what and how they want to communicate it. What behaviours is the organisation really looking to encourage?
Current HR policies and their Challenges
There have been a number of organisations we have worked with that have clearly defined the terms but have done it in a way that discourages anyone from participating. Policies are worded in formal, almost legal language, full of caveats and warnings about the need for a watertight business case and other requirements before the application can be considered for flexible working. This is demonstrably off putting and understandably staff are reluctant to submit themselves to a lengthy, complicated process with no guarantee of a positive outcome.
As a result, the policy may only be implemented for ‘exceptional situations’ like appointments for the gas man, or doctors, etc, but I would argue any reasonable manager would enable flexible working for these situations in any case. So, then the question becomes, why have a policy for a behaviour an organisation does not want to encourage? It’s a bit pointless – apart from the fact that a flexible working policy is required by law in the UK!
Flexible Working, Recruitment & Retention
Flexible working (in all its guises) can be a great asset for an organisation and many businesses have discovered exactly that… Nowadays we find many people now expect flexible working as part of the terms and conditions of their employment and this extends to all age groups. This working regime can in fact be used by recruiters as a tool for attraction. By using strong policies in your recruitment strategy, you’ll be able to enlarge the pool of talent in your recruitment selection. It is common for potential employees to be limited by their availabilities – they may have the capacity to work but may be restricted due to a range of reasons – and hence not apply for a position if they think their needs won’t be catered for. By offering flexible working, you’ll be surprised by the additional applications you may receive.
Some people think this concept is new and is being implemented because of the millennial generation. While studies show there is a strong demand from this generation, they are not the only ones interested in flexibility – people have all sorts of reasons for requiring flexible working.For example, they may have care responsibilities, or long commutes, perhaps they have health challenges or simply a desire for flexible hours to fit around other commitments.
It has been reported by the Chartered Management Institute that 1 in 5 British workers would take a pay cut for flexible working. This indicates it can be used as a major recruitment/retention tool for an organisation and should form part of the workplace strategy. But in order to make this happen, it needs to be communicated positively as part of the organisation’s culture – genuinely encouraged and supported, not just be HR speak.
In the experience of AWA workplace consultants, we commonly help guide managers on
- how they can encourage flexible working
- how to consistently assess suitability of roles and people for flexible workstyles
- how they can manage it, and
- the parameters formeasuring performance (essentially manging by outcomes)
Managers can be a blocker particularly if they are uncertain of their own management skills when people start to work differently – so they have to adapt and really think about doing things differently. By openly encouraging the uptake of flexible working and having competent management skills in place, we can make flexibility more of a norm rather than an exception. This will turn it into a positive tool for the attraction and retention of talent, which is one of the biggest challenges facing organisations right now.