Oliver Hansard has some advice on how employers can become more flexible, which is something that an increasing number of older workers want.
Some businesses work on the assumption that it’s only the big players who can afford to take the risk to even try a flexible working scheme. There was considerable press coverage recently of Microsoft Japan’s flexible working trial involving 2,300 employees taking the day off on five consecutive Fridays over the summer. The firm found that efficiency, productivity and worker happiness were boosted by 40%.
Workingmums.co.uk has long championed the principle of flexible working and has had great success in drawing large employers together to discuss and promote it – something it hopes to repeat with Workingwise.co.uk. I’ve also seen flexible working succeed in a range of business sizes and verticals. Yes, sometimes employees can take advantage, but more often than not it works for all concerned, improves the culture of the organisation and makes individuals more loyal both to their boss and their employer.
Case study – Adrian
Adrian worked as a commercial director in a media sales company. Almost simultaneously he became a new father and moved house out of central London to the Essex countryside and so extended his daily commute by an hour. In order to soften the blow of this longer day and the pressures of parenting a new born, his line manager allowed him to come in a little later, leave a little earlier provided he was in communication whilst travelling and finished the day’s work after putting his young son to bed.
These arrangements worked in three dimensions without impacting Adrian’s productivity: he was available as if he was in the office; he became more loyal to the business; and the fact that he wasn’t always travelling at peak times meant he was able to minimise his travelling costs just at a time when money was needed for new baby equipment!!
Give it a go – you might be pleasantly surprised
My experience has taught me that making flexible working work is just as much about the manager as it is about the individual concerned. I have always worked on the basis that a good manager knows if one of their reports is delivering because of the outputs they observe and not because of their observation of them in the office. Of course, being present with your team is important but not necessarily a requirement all the time. Managed well, everyone can be productive regardless of where they work from.
Here are some ideas I have seen put into practice that have helped flexible working schemes succeed:
In essence, build a flexible working model that is good for your business; get this right, celebrate your success and repeat. You may be surprised at the positive impact on your culture just as much as your team’s productivity.
A sting in the tale, so be prepared!
Of course, all employees have a legal right to ask to work flexibly; it is inevitable that you will be asked so be prepared. Think through in advance which roles might be suitable and which roles will not and have an objective and credible reason for both. Have a plan to deal with these types of requests and, in particular, make sure you deal with them in a non-discriminatory way. Don’t leave yourself open to a claim that the decision not to agree to flexible working was a result of sex, age or disability. In fact this is where a trial can really help all concerned to understand what is practical.
Whilst an employer can refuse to agree to flexible working when there is a business case to, perhaps what the trial at Microsoft in Japan is helping prove to even the most cynical of employers is that, done well, flexible working pays dividends through efficiency, productivity and worker happiness, and I can’t think of a better business case than that.
*Oliver Hansard is a Business Coach and Non-Executive Director of Hansard Coaching.