Being truly flexible

I’ve recently seen some research about what employees really want at work when it comes to benefits.

Top of the list was flexible working.  Above and beyond those benefits that actually cost employers to provide like cars, or healthcare, or vouchers and the like, and all of those other things that we often offer or include in flexible benefits schemes.  What people (two thirds of those surveyed) wanted more than anything else, and more than employers were actually offering it, was flexibility.

For many of us, the Monday to Friday 9-5 is predominantly what we do and how we work.  The promise about work being something that we do rather than somewhere we go, simply hasn’t delivered.  Our working hours and practices are culturally hardwired.  Tradition.  But the thing about many traditions, is that when we step back and take a long, hard look, they aren’t really all that necessary or important or even sensible.  And we certainly wouldn’t invent them all over again if we started from new.

Here’s the thing.  Many flexible working arrangements cost the organisation precisely zero.  Not one single pound.  Nowt, as they say where I live.  Or at the very least, significantly less than the other reward and engagement activities that we are happy to spend our corporate cash on.

Compressed hours, reduced hours, changing when and where work is done, finishing early for the school run, travelling outside the rush hour, a day a week from home.  The investment required isn’t so much financial as it is an investment in a little bit of effort and a little bit of trust.  And of course, the willingness to try and step out of the old routine.

It is becoming clear that if you don’t offer flexible working, you are missing out on one of your biggest potential opportunities around retention, engagement and candidate attraction. And when I say ‘offer’ flexible working, let me be a little bit more specific.  I don’t mean doing the statutory minimum, and only saying yes to a mum returner if you can’t come up with a reason to say no.  I mean building it in to what you do, when the roles in question genuinely allow it.  Talking about it at the recruitment stage.  Making it part of your employment offering.  Welcoming the discussion from anyone.  Educating your managers on the benefits.  Challenging those who take a default no position.  No snarky comments.  No one feeling like they have to apologise for working differently.  Not only making flexible working possible but actively embracing it.

It appears that more people want flexibility than can get it, or feel like they can ask for it.  This means it is both an opportunity and a threat.  An opportunity to offer something truly valuable to your people, that will engage and retain and attract.  Or a threat, because if you can’t or won’t get flexible, then maybe they will go somewhere else that can and will.

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