Flexible working arrangements have mostly been associated with female employees who wish to fit their work around family commitments. However, the world of work is changing and employers that broaden their approach to flexible working are positioning themselves to reap the rewards in terms of productivity, retention and recruitment.
Despite women continuing to take responsibility for the majority of childcare and other family responsibilities, employees of both genders are increasingly choosing to work flexibly for all kinds of reasons. In particular, members of the millennial generation – who are typically far more concerned with work-life balance than previous generations – are increasingly opting out of a traditional 9-5 routine, and are attracted to ways of working that give them flexibility.
Employers that offer flexible working are likely to be employers of choice for all generations and both genders.
Offer flexible working to all employees
As the persistent gender pay gap and lack of board gender diversity stubbornly attests, limiting flexible working to those with family commitments is in some ways counter-productive. By genuinely embracing agile and flexible working for all, employers can reduce the focus on working mothers and enjoy a number of significant commercial benefits at the same time.
Research shows most men are reluctant to request alternative working arrangements (and shared parental leave) because they fear it will harm their career progression. If employers make it clear that they welcome applications from all staff, they will be more able to foster a culture where flexible working is for everyone.
The benefits of flexible working
Among the benefits will be a slow shift in perceptions (and the reality) that senior roles are not occupied by those who work flexibly – a key contributing factor to the gender pay gap.
HR issues can arise where staff who would like to work flexibly feel they are unable to do so because priority is given to those with childcare commitments. Opening out such a policy to all employees can help deal with any conflicts that might be caused by competing demands.
Rolling out the option to work flexibly can also help reduce attrition rates and their associated costs, because staff who decide they need to change their balance of work for other interests and commitments will be able to do so without leaving the organisation. Having the flexibility to fit in leisure interests, volunteering roles, community projects, caring for extended family members as well as parent-related activities will increase engagement with you as an employer, whether these are on a regular basis or occasional requests.
As the nature of work changes, it is more important to focus on outputs rather than the number of hours staff spend at work. Introducing a policy to grant flexible-working requests unless there is a sound business imperative that makes the request impossible to facilitate will help management to focus more on outputs than inputs.
Making flexible working work for your organisation
In developing flexible working arrangements, it is important to ensure that they suit each individual business, can be easily understood and managed. For larger employers flexible working arrangements may differ between different departments or locations depending on the nature of the work. Is it a business imperative for all employees to be working at the same time with the same start and finish times, such as running a shift system on a multi-person production line? Are there peak operating or servicing hours when it would be ideal to have maximum presence? Can the type of work be completed through home-working?
Focusing on the what, how, where and when questions will help devise opportunities for flexibility.
One of the most common reasons for refusing flexible-working requests is a concern that employees will take advantage of such arrangements. Experience suggests such a concern is more likely to be indicative of poor management; if it is thought that an employee will take advantage, then clearly there is very little trust in the employment relationship in the first instance – a more fundamental issue than one caused by a flexible-working policy.
Inclusive flexible working policies enable employers to engage with all generations and both genders to the benefit of all parties. Introducing a flexible working policy also gives an employer the opportunity to re-state what is expected during work time and can enable a cultural shift towards managing outputs, improving productivity and performance.
Our mission is to remove the gender barriers to achieving business success. Through our consultancy services, Career-Mums Partnership can design a flexible working policy (or review and adapt an existing dated policy) that works for your unique business and support you with successful implementation.