Extending flexible working – lottery or strategy?

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In those workplaces where employees belong to a lottery syndicate they collectively take a gamble on how their lives might improve if their numbers come up. For most I assume it’s a bit of light-hearted fun - pooling their resources and knowing they’re all likely to benefit.

Taking a gamble on whether you can manage your work-life balance and knowing that your colleagues may win at your expense is likely to be viewed differently. With the extension of the Right to Request Flexible Working, this is effectively what new ACAS guidelines appear to be recommending.

Apparently, one suggestion for tackling multiple requests where the employer finds it hard to choose between them is to consider some form of random selection such as drawing names from a hat. Hardly likely to increase employee engagement – either among the successful who may feel guilty or bear the brunt of colleague’s ire or among the unsuccessful. Rather than continue treating flexible working as a concession for favoured staff, it’s time for employers to recognise that:

1.     In the 21st century - where many businesses compete in global markets operating 24/7 and 365 days a year - flexible working is an essential part of an employer’s armoury; consequently

2.     Flexible working is no longer an exception to be accommodated within “standard working” arrangements. It’s the new normal and employers need to take a strategic approach to its management.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of taking a strategic approach to flexible working. In many organisations practices have developed piecemeal over the years, often in response to individual retention issues or emerging legislation. I call this the “transactional approach” to flexibility. Who gets to work such an arrangement relies more on individual managers (and their relationship with a particular employee) than on a structured, strategic approach grounded in a sound business case.

So what distinguishes a strategic approach? Put simply:

·       The organisation recognises that work-life balance affects every employee; and changes throughout the life-course.

·       HR policies are integrated to fully support work-life balance.

·       The focus is on moving to a Results Oriented Work Environment.

·       Flexible arrangements are agreed at the team or departmental level.

·       The organisational culture fully supports balanced working for all staff.

·       Employees know they can reach senior levels while working “non-traditional” arrangements.

There are many benefits to a strategic approach. The focus on wellbeing can enhance employee engagement while a focus on outputs is likely to improve productivity. It affirms the employer’s integrity by demonstrating that people really are your most important asset; and will safeguard talent pools as those with key skills find support to continue working through changes in life circumstances.

A strategic approach requires a strategy. It looks at how jobs can be redesigned, puts in processes to support home workers, trains managers and addresses trust issues. It transforms a company culture to one that fully supports work-life balance for everyone; not one where access to flexibility is a gamble based on what your co-workers need.

About AJ Meller

About AJ Meller

Anna Meller has spent the last 20 years making work-life integration her business. A successful consultant, thought leader, researcher and author, Anna’s accessible approach is both evidence based and pragmatic.

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