HRM takes a look at the organisations that are ahead of the game when it comes to flexible working programs, and why they should be optional rather than enforced.
Flexible Work Day is here once again. So what better way to mark the occasion than by looking at what some of the leader in this space are doing.
In order to raise awareness about the benefits of flexible working practices in Australia, a new program has been announced called the Champions of Flexible Working Awards. Recipients of this accolade have demonstrable results about how their flexibility program has “transformed their business”.
The winners from the private sector include GM Holden, which claimed the top slot, alongside American Express, Diva Works, LegalVision, Mercer Australia and Unity Water. In the public sector, the recipients included City of Melbourne, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and South Australia’s Department for Environment and Water, with Lifeline Canberra receiving the non-profit award.
So what does it mean to “transform your business” through flexibility? It means having initiatives include pushing back on “flexism” and the “gender flex gap” – which are biased approaches to flexibility which assume it’s for some workers and not others. It could also mean a smart use of technology to ensure the effectiveness of the program.
According to Vanessa Vanderhoek, the founder of Flexible Work Day Champions of Flexible Working Awards, the normalisation of flexibility needs to come from the very top.
“With all members of the Senior Leadership Team accessing flex, including four in formal part time roles, not only do they lead by example, but they show how as a team they can support one another to challenge the perceived ‘norms’ of how executives ‘should’ work,” says Vanderhoek.
Vanderhoek also spoke of the importance of changing the conversation around flexible working to break down social barriers. “We have seen the conversation mature with companies realising flexibility is key to attracting and retaining talent and also a driver for productivity,” she says.
Is it for everyone?
While these are no doubt important developments, it’s important to remember the inherent nature of these programs is to be flexible, meaning they shouldn’t been forced. Recent research by the University of Melbourne shows that employees don’t always respond well to flexible programs if they are not offered the choice. The research, which focussed on a US-based employer which had enforced a flexible work program, found that 35 per cent of employees were not in favour of it.
“What we were looking at, in particular, was a workplace where the employer had decided: ‘You know what, this is what’s going to work best for the business, and we think people are going to like it because we’ve heard that it’s a flexible option and people should love it’,” says researcher Edward Hyatt.
“The only people that were really happy with it were those that didn’t mind that it had been made mandatory.”
But it really boils down to careful planning in term of what works for the business as well as employees, and what the organisation hopes to achieve from a flexibility program. The research also found that core hours were preferential for a business, so that a business can be fully functioning at certain times, and so it’s easier to schedule meetings.
Another thing to keep in mind is the pervasive “always on” culture, which can be an unfortunate byproduct of flexible working. New York recently instituted a bill to counteract being on at all times, called the “Right to Disconnect”, where private companies comprised of 10 or more employees are no longer legally allowed to expect staff to respond to digital correspondence outside of work hours. Failure to comply will result in a $250 fine per occurrence. As HRM reported last year, France was and Germany both have similar bills in place. Could Australia be next?
While flexibility in the workplace is overwhelmingly positive, it’s important to keep the option open, ensure digital communications don’t get out of hand and, well, be flexible.
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