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As organisations increasingly operate in multi-cultural environments Diversity and Inclusion has risen up the HR agenda. It’s become important to both acknowledge the benefits of diversity and to foster workplace cultures that are inclusive towards diverse colleagues.

An inclusive culture is built on two foundations. The first is behavioural. It starts with a Dignity at Work policy that encourages respect for others; and it’s underpinned by an understanding of both the business benefits of diverse ways of thinking and the value of different outlooks on life. But this in itself is not sufficient to create an organisation with a positive diversity and inclusion ethos.

To truly build a diverse workforce – one that reflects the society within which the organisation operates and the customer base it serves – it becomes important to ensure everyone has access to the workplace. This is where flexible working comes in. Research continues to prove that a lack of flexible working provision denies people access to work, keeps them stuck in jobs below their skills levels, forces them to compromise careers and impacts negatively on wellbeing.

There are still too many workplaces where flexible working is considered an inconvenient concession for those unable to work standard hours. Where this is the case the availability of flexible arrangements will be limited to lower level, lower skilled jobs. It’s often seen as a way of helping out mothers struggling to balance work with childcare issues. But research is increasingly suggesting the majority of workers would benefit from some form of flexibility. For example: a neurodiverse employee with autism may prefer to commute outside of busy periods when the levels of sensory stress are lower, or even to work from home some of the time for the same reason. And workers with extended family overseas may welcome an annual hours arrangement that enables them to make an extended trip home for family occasions.

The exponential growth in smart phones and other devices offering the possibility to be connected any time anywhere means it is easier than ever for employers to countenance flexible working arrangements. But this new opportunity also comes with some risk. Simply agreeing that employees can work outside of standard arrangements without providing guidance on how and when to switch off is likely to lead to #AlwaysOn working and the attendant stresses it brings. And we all know that stress has a way of bringing out the worst in us as we revert to coping behaviours which may not support dignity at work. Stressed employees are also less productive and likely to experience poorer health.

The solution lies in creating a balanced working culture where effective flexible working is linked with support for work-life balance. This requires both a culture shift and a radical review of outmoded working practices that currently get in the way. To achieve this HR departments need to create a new role of Head of Balanced Working, Wellbeing and Inclusion. Over the past thirty years as the HR profession has matured we’ve seen the emergence of new roles such as, for example, Business Partner and Talent Manager. A Head of Balanced Working is the next natural progression for forward thinking employers wanting to encourage inclusive flexible working arrangements while protecting employee wellbeing.

The Head of Balanced Working role combines a focus on wellbeing with a strategic approach that harvests the benefits of flexible working rather than turning flexibility into a 21st century malaise driven by technology and generating an #AlwaysOn workplace. A key part of the remit is to ensure flexible working by default right across the employee lifecycle: from the moment an advert is drafted through career progression and up until the employee finally leaves the organisation. Success is evaluated not just by how well all employees across the board understand the business value of enabling flexible working, but also by the extent to which the support and skills to make it happen are available.

Since the influx of women into the post war working world the nature of work has changed dramatically. So have the social expectations of how it fits into our lives. With calls for #QualityFlexibleJobs #workthatworks and for organisations to #hirememyway a strategic approach is the only effective solution. If you’re an employer now, more than ever, you need to appoint a Head of Balanced Working, Wellbeing and Inclusion. What’s stopping you?

Anna Meller, Work Re-Balance Expert at Sustainable Working Ltd

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