Overcoming resistance to flexibility with an evidence based approach

AJ Meller
Director
Sustainable Working Ltd
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In most organisations a large minority of managers are likely to continue declining flexible working requests out of hand. This is despite the recent extension to the Right to Request legislation, the wealth of evidence that flexible arrangements can both support work-life balance and facilitate women’s career progression and the fact that an increasing number of workers say they want more flexible schedules. While the organisation around them grapples with BYOD policies, the need to make better use of costly premises and an increasing recognition that Agile Working is the future, they remain unconvinced.

They have my sympathy. In all probability they have a sneaking suspicion that managing flexible workers will require more effort, will look more anarchic and will have a negative impact on both customers and work output. In an earlier blog post I talked about how an evidence based approach can overcome these emotional reactions which are often driven by unconscious bias, erroneous beliefs or even fear of losing control. When given an opportunity to discuss the facts and figures, I’ve seen managers move from resistance to confidence in their ability to manage new ways of working, and to a better understanding of the benefits.

So what counts as evidence in this context? Here are five categories to consider.

Firstly, the most obvious is in-company role models. We’re all aware of the benefits of having role models, and in my work with organisations they’re often the “evidence base” of most interest to other employees looking for flexibility. Asking questions such as “who do we know that’s already working a flexible arrangement?” “How did they go about setting this up?” How are they making it work?” can help identify successful flexible workers. In this context, it’s a pity that in many organisations potential role models operate under the radar - particularly if they’re senior managers – and the evidence remains invisible.

Digging a little deeper, the second approach is to get a group of managers to share their own experiences of managing flexible workers – both within their current organisation and with previous employers. Effectively, we’re building a database of knowledge about the topic and identifying the shared expertise a manager can harness when faced with a flexible working request.

The third alternative is collecting external evidence – and the key challenge here becomes what to select. A google search can provide research reports and case studies galore while most technology providers will be only too happy to share their own experiences as a means of selling the facilitating technology to your organisation.

A fourth option is to calculate potential financial savings by measuring things such as attraction – both in terms of candidate numbers and quality - wellbeing, turnover rates and reasons for attrition, premises costs and occupancy ratios. From a CSR or environmental perspective, it’s also possible to estimate a “carbon footprint” based on the reduction in travel resulting from more home based working.

The fifth and final option is to run pilots with the more willing managers and gather evidence in this way.

When it comes to line manager resistance to the pull of flexible working, Einstein’s observation that “everything has changed except our way of thinking” seems apposite. Given the way the world of work is going, changing thinking is crucial. A focus on providing evidence will both support more rational decisions and enable managers to identify and overcome their own skills gaps.

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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