This week’s blog is written by Michelle Gyimah, who is the Director of Equality Pays, a gender equality consultancy dedicated to closing workplace pay gaps.
Let's talk about the f word.
Yes, you heard right - flexibility.
Research shows that the majority of employees value flexibility over more traditional workplace benefits. Currently 87% of full-time workers currently work flexibly or want to. So as a line manager or HR manager, can you make flexible working work for both you and your team?
Firstly, talk to and listen to your employees.
It can be very easy to make assumptions about what employees want when asking for flexible working and it can be easy to assume that all employees want the same type of flexible working. This is often untrue, but without opening up an honest conversation with your employees it's difficult to know what to do next in a meaningful way.
For example, if an employee comes to you with a flexible working request listen with an open mind. Allow them the space to explain what it is they're looking for, but more importantly how they think it they can make it work. Listening to the ‘how’ is the most important. When you are open to other people's suggestions and ideas it fosters the concept of trust because you are giving them the space to prove to you how they think it can work. You may be surprised with what they come up with purely because they are viewing their work and their productivity from an angle that is different to yours.
A good and confident line manager or team leader is always willing to listen to new ideas even if they don't understand them or are skeptical of them. Flexible working is a relatively new concept in the workplace, but many people, if given the opportunity, will have lots of ideas about how they can make it work.
Secondly - be open to reversible trials.
It's entirely possible to say yes to a flexible working request without it being set in stone forever. Agreeing to a trial shows willing and trust on your part and gives you both the opportunity to test it out. A trial period allows you to iron out the creases, gives a time limited commitment and allows you both to see how it can work in practice. It's not uncommon for both employees and employers to have their assumptions and attitudes towards flexible working changed during a trial period. Provided that there is the opportunity to evaluate and provide honest feedback on what has and hasn't worked, a trial period is always a good idea.
Thirdly – lead with transparency and accountability.
Don't over-promise or under-sell flexible working in your workplace. Ensure that your flexible working policy is truly aligned with the flexible working practices and behaviours in the workplace. Avoid the pitfalls of saying that you promote and have flexible working if very few people are granted the opportunity to do it. Ensure that you have the following:
- Visible flexible working champions to embed and raise profile of flexible workers
- Trained line managers at every level so they know how to deal with flexible working requests in a fair way
- Regular evaluations of people's flexible working requests
- Easy to access information on flexible working policies and practice.
And lastly practice flexible working yourself
Offer accountability and support to those who do and those who wish to. As the saying goes 'you can't be what you can't see'. This is very true for flexible working. Many employees are reluctant to be the trailblazers for flexible working and those that are often face an uphill task in persuading a team leader or an employer to allow them to work flexibly. Especially if they have always stuck to the usual 9-5 working pattern.
To make it easier for your employees you should 'walk the talk'. Essentially this means working flexibly yourself, having clear lines of accountability and clear lines of support for those who work flexibly as well as those who manage flexible workers. This takes away the fear of asking from employees and takes away the fear of understanding how flexible working can work for employers.
Doing these four things will enable you to embed flexible working into your workplace in a sustainable and accountable way. Almost everyone wants flexibility and the demand is rising. The article ‘ Why employees want to work flexibly (and why you should let them)' illustrates the drivers behind this really well. With so many talented people who have responsibilities outside work and other reasons for not needing or wanting to be in the workplace 9-5 it's important that as an employer you embrace flexible working and figure out a way to make it work for you. Embedding these four principles into your flexible working process will help you stand out as an employer of choice.