Earlier today, I read an article that included a statement from an Usdaw representative saying that there were not enough people in HR who understand or have training in flexible working practices. Rubbish.
Whilst I’m sad to say it, but my own experience over many years in HR, is that the reluctance often lies with managers – in the first instance. The first time someone asks for something a bit different, a bit non-standard, the shutters come down. I have heard every excuse under the sun for not wanting to grant a flexible working request.
In recent years it has got better, but when the regulations first came out, it was very much a case of a knee jerk no, followed by scrabbling around to hang the refusal on a statutory reason. But flexible working isn’t about mothers and carers requesting part time hours, not any more. We all want a bit of it. Personally, I’d like to go to the gym when there is no one else there, in the middle of the day. And I’d like some time to go off to conferences and events, and just catch up on my emails later on, whilst sat on the sofa. I want to work in the best way for me. And that just might not be 9-5, Monday to Friday.
Technology now gives us the opportunity to work anywhere, and anywhen. We are just as productive in the Coffice as we are at the office. The world of work is changing. People have these funny things outside of work, called lives. And they want to live them.
Flexible working is a talent issue. A retention issue. An engagement issue. Just saying you want everyone in the office won’t be an option if you want to attract, engage and retain the best people for your organisation.
For me, the key component to getting flexible working to work is trust. A few years ago one of my team had three children under the age of three. Childcare costs meant returning to the 9-5 office environment was simply not feasible. So I just told her to work whenever she wanted. She worked about 16 hours a week from home. I say ‘about’ as I have never checked. If I really wanted to, I guess I could have got the IT team to check the hours she was logged on, but I think that would have said more about me than it would her. The only time I ever saw this particular member of the team was at the twice yearly performance appraisal. Other than that, we largely kept in touch by email. She often worked late in the evenings or on weekends; a complete and total flexible working arrangement. And trust is what made it work.
In HR, we need to help managers understand flexible working. Understand that it is nothing to be concerned about. That they don’t need to be able to have someone in their line of sight in order to make sure that they are working. That allowing their teams to work from home, come in early, leave late, or compress all the hours, is a good thing, not a scary thing. That is about treating someone like the individual that they are.