How To Become A Flexible Workplace

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Working my way through university I had a huge amount of flexibility in my employment, the hours I wanted to work was a constant conversation with my employer, and indeed the duties that I was happy to undertake was part of those conversations. Following graduate I became more valuable as measured by the salary I commanded, and by the breadth and reach of the work that I undertook, however the flexibility disappeared. I think many of us have had this experience, whether it was working in hospitality like I did, or the retail industry etc., so what happened?

Why is it that in business that didn’t have HR practitioners, I enjoyed greater flexibility and worklife balance then than I do now – in organisations with dedicated teams focused on HR? Well I can say from my experience that flexibility impacted the bottom line, if I or one of my colleagues didn’t turn up it resulted in lost revenue for the owner, so it was pretty important that everyone was happy with when they were working so would be much more inclined to turn up. And now in professional style roles (if you feel inclined you can read my take on why HR isn’t and shouldn’t be a profession here) like HR, I work from 9-5 five days a week. Which is fine if that’s what I want to do, however where is the conversation. Within my HR career I have had many interviews for different roles, not once has anyone asked how often I would like to work – or indeed what my preferred start and finish times are. Why is this?

Often we (and without playing the blame game, HR does have a role in this) sit back and marvel at our policies on flexible practices such as full or part time, carers leave, permanent, fixed term or casual employment. Except none of this is flexible, here’s a couple of ideas on how to change and offer employees a truly flexible working environment.

Flexibility starts at the recruitment stage, tell applicants your expectations upfront.

Hours to be worked each week/fortnight, forget the extremes of full time vs part time, actually give applicants a range – set the expectation upfront. What is the minimum amount of hours that you would consider are required for someone to make an impact/contribution in this role? Then consider the maximum hours you can afford to pay each week/fortnight for the duration of this role. Thats the range you can provide to applicants. For some roles you might need employees to work a forty hour week, or other roles you might think that between 25 and 40 hours a week is a range that you can work with, through conversation at the offer stage you would then offer them the agreed hours on an ongoing basis. How amazing would that be, as an applicant to be able to inform the number of hours you work each week as part of the employment conversation.

Location for many is a significant barrier, both for employers looking for employees, and applicants looking for a job. Particularly in knowledge economy back office type roles, do employees really need to be physically in the office – do they even need to be in the same town or state? It should be noted I’m not talking about offshoring here, that can become relatively complex with different employment legislation and time zones. And certainly these can be present in larger countries as well such as the US, however within country these variations are usually workable within current organisational policy. Consider the greater depth of applicant talent you could gain if you advised potential applicants in your job advertisement that tele-commuting was available within this role.

And depending on your organisation there will be a number of flexibility levers that you can leverage, often in organisations that I’ve worked in employees can purchase additional recreation leave – how great would that be to talk about upfront. Much in the same way as hours of work are discussed above, perhaps identify how many additional weeks of leave can be purchased for this role – while still achieving the required output/impact etc.

Of course prior to launching this initiative, you would consider your current workforce and make the same offers available to them. No one likes being left out, the goal here is to attract and retain talent – often the retention of current staff is given little regard. Now the number one aspect of offering a flexible work environment is measuring its success – which is where most current workplaces fall down. Many HR practitioners will talk about how they offer fulltime and part-time work, and how flexible they are as an employer. Next time you’re in one of these conversations, or indeed if you’re an HR practitioner ask yourself this – how many people optionally selected to work full time or part time. Typically in response to this question there is either silence or a mumbled ‘I don’t know, we don’t record that’. So here’s the take, all that time spent on quasi flexible workplace policies, and as an organisation you have no idea if any of it worked. My colleagues in marketing will tell you exactly how well a new marketing campaign worked and the cost per acquisition, yet with all this focus on war on talent and becoming flexible to attract top talent – we have no idea.

Measure it, that’s the number one take home message, if it’s important to the organisation then measures will be put in place – and this actually applies to all areas of HR. If workplace flexibility isn’t important to your organisation, then that’s okay, but at least be upfront about it.

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