How flexible are you?

Author: Harrison HR | Blog

A friend, Lucy, was the human resources manager reporting to the CEO when she fell pregnant with her first child. In the last trimester of her pregnancy, she requested to go part-time as she was experiencing some pregnancy-related health issues. The CEO refused her request but instead offered a more junior and lower paid position. Lucy was disappointed as she had dedicated herself to the company, working long hours and delivering excellent results. The CEO had also recently declined the request of another manager to temporarily work one day from home or a four-day week. Both employees subsequently resigned.

Balancing work, family and other personal commitments is challenging for every employee. CEOs often tell me that they don’t ‘believe’ in flexible working arrangements like job-sharing, working from home, or flexible or part-time working hours. They justify this by citing increased time to manage, negative impacts on service delivery, and increased cost in overheads. These assumptions (many of them unfounded) affect working mothers most strongly. However, Dads want to spend more time with their children too. Flexibility is something that working parents of all genders strongly desire.

Employers who remain fixated on outdated work models are being left behind by their more flexible competitors. You’ll not only lose great people, you’ll also find it difficult to replace them. Instead, focus on outputs rather than inputs. It’s not about how many hours your employees work. It’s not about you looking over their shoulders. It’s about the results they are producing. Set the goals and allow them flexibility to deliver.

How to create a more flexible workplace

There is a way for you to differentiate yourself as a great employer by offering flexible work arrangements without compromising the delivery of great service. My three key recommendations are outlined below:

1. Consider flexible work arrangements

Question your thinking about flexible working arrangements. Is it really that hard? Are the costs really that high? Have you considered all the possible benefits? Might there be a way around some of the perceived challenges associated with flexible working arrangements?

Start by identifying the real business need. Flexible working arrangements are by no means a good fit for every business. Sacrificing business outcomes to offer employees more flexible working arrangements is not something worth considering.

Being flexible often means being open to any number of requests and suggestions from employees. To avoid awkward discussions that end with severely disappointed employees, be clear from the beginning. Let everybody know what you will and will not allow. By this I mean:

  • What flexible working arrangements will you consider, eg part-time, job share, working from home, extended hours over 4 days rather than 5, 9 day fortnights, flexible start and finish times.
  • What criteria will you use to assess requests for flexible working arrangements?

Clearly document any flexible work arrangements, including communication protocols, performance expectations, and potentially a review period to assess and discuss if the arrangement is working for all.

2. Establish clear performance expectations

Like any other working arrangements, for flexible working arrangements to operate successfully, there need to be clear goals and performance measures in place. These ensure that the manager and the employee are equally clear on the outputs the employee needs to deliver. Most of the focus should be on these outputs – not on start time and finish times. Try not to get hung up on the idea that productivity is wedded to the number of hours worked. You might be surprised by just how productive employees on flexible schedules can be.

3. Communicate

Like many other people-related strategies, the success of flexible working arrangements all comes down to communication. My communication recommendations to ensure smooth sailing for flexible working arrangements are three-fold: customers and co-workers; employee; and manager. Customers and co-workers need to know about the employee’s flexible working arrangements so they are able to continue their communication with the employee and sufficiently plan their own work. The employee needs to communicate frequently so that they remain in the loop, discussing pertinent issues and thereby mitigating the risks associated with flexible working arrangements, and they must be very organised to ensure their goals are met and that their productivity and work quality don’t suffer in any way. The manager and employee need to establish a communication protocol to ensure effective management of the employment relationship. This normally includes a mix of reporting, meetings and informal conversations.

Compare Lucy’s experience to that of the online fashion retailer, Birdsnest who employ a predominantly part-time and female workforce – many of child-bearing age! The company is amazingly successful in every way – high financial growth, customer service awards, and BRW listed best place to work. Birdsnest are awesome at communication utilising a mixture of face-to-face, email, sms, and private Facebook group.

So, in summary, take advantage of the opportunity to attract and retain superstar employees by offering workplace flexibility.

  1. Consider what flexible you can offer.
  2. Be clear on performance expectations.
  3. Communicate, communicate and communicate some more.

For guidance on creating a more flexible workplace, please contact Harrison Human Resources.

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