What is flexible working?
Flexible working just means that the employer is able to accommodate a range of working arrangements. Some people may prefer the traditional 9 to 5.30 in the workplace every day, with an hour’s break at lunchtime. Others may prefer to arrive or leave earlier or later than those hours. Some may prefer to work elsewhere occasionally, or regularly. Flexible working means different things to different people. But the more flexible you can be, the more productivity you will get from your employees.
In employment terms, flexible working might encompass a whole range of things. These can include flexi-time, flexible working hours; working from home, either regularly or occasionally. Or it might mean working from another location. Flexibility for employees might include fitting round family and caring responsibilities. For example people might want to finish early and make up hours at other times. Or they might need to work round the school run. It can mean they don’t need to watch the clock. They can stop feeling guilty for arriving later or leaving earlier than colleagues.
Why is flexibility important for my business?
Allowing individuals to have flexible work arrangements which suit their needs gives them the chance to do their work when they feel most able to. This means they will be more productive. There are other benefits for the employer, as well. You may be able to cover a longer working day with a variety of people. Some may prefer an early start and some want to finish late. So you have a better chance of someone being available when your customers need your services.
Your reputation as a good employer will spread and you may find it is easier to recruit and to retain the staff you have got. The people who work for you are likely to feel more trusted and valued and so will put in more effort for you.
You may even find that absence is reduced if people feel more able to work from home if they have a cold or upset stomach.
Recruitment as a flexible employer
Previous articles have talked about employing older workers or carers and both these groups of people will benefit from flexibility in the workplace. Research shows that older people would be very appreciative of flexible working hours. Working with these needs would widely increase your pool of available employees.
Beware, though, of advertising that you are an employer who offers flexibility, and then not allowing people to work flexibly. This can be seriously detrimental to your reputation and employer brand. If the operations of your business are such that you cannot allow flexibility, then it is far better to admit that openly. Explain the situation to potential employees, giving the reason why. You may lose a few candidates as a result, but the benefit is that employees will know what to expect. So they will only accept a role if they feel suited to your environment.
How do I make flexibility work?
The most important factor in a successful employer/employee relationship is trust. If you build a culture of trust within your business, then you will be able to introduce flexible working and know that your employees will not take advantage of you.
As managers, we often find it hard to trust our employees to get on with the work when we are not watching them. My experience is that most people can be trusted. If you give them that trust, they will bend over backwards to avoid taking advantage.
You need to get across the message that you trust your employees to do their job and behave like adults. They also need to understand that the work is their responsibility and that you will judge them by the results they achieve, rather than the hours they do. Interestingly, having the conversation and allowing them to work flexibly will increase their commitment. They know what is good and don’t want to risk losing it. In fact, most people work longer, and harder, when trusted to be flexible.
What if I can’t allow flexible working?
Where people request flexible working in some form or other, then try to accommodate such requests wherever possible. This means that on the occasions when you really cannot allow some flexible working, people will understand that there is a good reason why. If you do have to turn down such a request, then make sure the individual understands the reason why it cannot be allowed.
If you are going to give people trust and autonomy, without checking up on them, then you also need to establish regular contact. Make sure you build in team events and training opportunities. Arrange regular meetings (in person or otherwise). This will prevent people feeling abandoned, unloved , forgotten or not needed. It will also prevent them from heading off down a different work path than the one you need.
On the odd occasion you may find that someone has betrayed your trust and has not produced the required work, or has clearly been taking advantage. In those cases, make sure you deal promptly and strongly with the issue. This prevents any resentment or repetition from colleagues.
I am a great advocate of trust in the workplace. If you want employees to flourish in your workplace, then equip them with the skills and tools they need. Then give them the freedom (and support) to fly. If you allow flexible working, they will return your trust in spades. You will then find that you have a motivated, productive and happy workforce.