A-HA recently ran a session with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and a group of employers on how flexibility is applied to your typical ‘inflexible’ jobs that have client, time and location demands such as construction, sales and shift work.
The common challenge that many of the participating organisations faced was shifting the overall mindset, perceptions and culture in the workplace about how work gets done, particularly for construction and sales, where people need to be physically onsite and available for face time with clients.
Although the concept of flexibility has been discussed and explored across the last 20 years in Australia, the process within most businesses has become so overly formal and long winded that it is too daunting and complicated for employees to navigate. This results in people not requesting any flexibility in their role or having it denied because the policy is too restrictive.
Another challenge is the perception that flexibility is still only available for working mums and parents, which we know isn’t the case. Flexibility should be made available to everyone. In fact, one organisation present gave an example of asking every employee to share “one simple thing” they need to do that week, which might include leaving early to go to the gym, arriving late to see your child’s school play or, needing some down time. This was a terrific example of personalising flexibility to accommodate everyone.
It is very inspiring to see how HR and leadership in workplaces are starting the flexibility conversation with their staff, providing visible role models at a senior level and working towards a more informal process that puts the human back into the centre of flex.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint specific success metrics, there are positive outcomes to introducing flexibility with high levels of employee engagement being reported and for the sales organisation, an uptick in women applying for and progressing through the ranks.
Introducing flexibility to the workplace is a massive undertaking, however it can start simply. We’ve detailed our top 9 learnings from the session to share with you:
Look at the role and challenge how it could be done
Ask yourself if there is an element of flexibility that could be introduced, even small ones.
Don’t be prescriptive with flexibility
It doesn’t have to mean just part time / compressed hours / job share / work from home options or, reduced hours. Flexibility can be customised to suit your business. It may include someone leaving early to pick his/her children up from school; it may also be someone who wants to fit in a gym session before they go back onsite. There is no ‘one size fits all’.
Negotiate the best solution for all
The three most important stakeholders in the process are the employee, the team and the employer. You need to be flexible about flexibility!
It’s not just for parents
Everyone has a personal life outside of work, being able to work flexibly to enable employees to manage their commitments across both will improve overall engagement and wellbeing. Empower your employees to ask for flexibility.
Be open and transparent with everyone and at all levels
During our session, organisations communicated widely about the positive benefits of flexibility in a series of town hall style meetings. By having senior leaders as champions of flexibility and by celebrating the successes, they could start shifting their internal culture and the acceptance of working flexibly.
Leaders need to be visible and break the mindset of ‘presenteeism’
To change the culture, it needs to start with bringing together senior leaders and managers. Leaders should live and breathe flexibility authentically. One anecdote told was around a CEO who would leave the office at 5 p.m. every day and let her team know she was leaving to cook dinner for her children.
Set clear boundaries and guidelines
Setting clear boundaries and guidelines around working flexibly will help teams structure their work and how they communicate. This can help employees who are working part time or remotely for part of the week and ensure that they don’t need ‘prove’ they are working or taking on more workload than necessary. It will also support management to outline what is and isn’t possible from a commercial and practical perspective.
Communicate openly and often
Making full use of technology to enable team communications and schedule sharing is critical. For site workers, flexibility meant enabling them to schedule their hours around their commitments. The team’s project managers used an excel spreadsheet as a scheduling tool for flexibility. Each person could submit what their ‘one simple thing’ was that was important to them and what they wanted in terms of days and times to accommodate it. This was then worked through to ensure that there was minimal impact to the project and the rest of the team.
Monitor your employee engagement surveys
Although it can be difficult to define flexibility metrics, a success measure that you could use to track the impact of flexibility can be the results of your employee engagement surveys and feedback tools. No noise means it might just working.