In the past few years, many organisations have made a shift towards embracing more flexible working practices, encouraged by a change in the law allowing all employees the right to request flexible working, as well as interventions such as shared parental leave. More and more people are now working in portfolio-type careers, with a mixture of part-time or contract work and work-life balance is frequently cited as high on the list of desirable criteria for graduates and those in well-established careers alike. It seems that the landscape (not to mention technology!) may be shifting us towards more non-traditional working patterns.
Happily, flexible working policies are now targeting and reaching more and more employees. However, recommendations and formal policies only go so far in supporting organisations and employees to make flexible-working work well. As well as policies, we also need to consider organisational behaviours and attitudes, which play a crucial role in supporting flexible workplaces. Such behaviours and attitudes may impact on the success of the most well-intentioned family-friendly policy or intervention. It is also important to consider that flexible working goes beyond working hours; we need to consider working arrangements, use of technology, role design, and transparency of flexibility within the organisation (do people know about it, what do they know and how do they talk about it?).
There are interventions which could help organisations pave the way for smoother flexible working practices. Working with managers to narrow the gap between policy and practice will help them to understand what is going on day-to-day and navigate any issues as they arise, as they may feel the impact first. Providing coaching or training on flexible working will equip employees with the skills to manage flexible working effectively.
As with any organisational intervention, lead the change from the top, getting clear role models showing positive stories and progression from flexible working approaches. Research suggests that an overwhelming majority of flexible working interventions are led by HR, rather than Chief Executive level. Get input from staff using forums or regular surveys to get feedback and ideas about how to make things work more efficiently. And remember that flexibility can be proactive, so organisations can discuss it, promote it and build it in from the recruitment stage.
Flexible and family friendly working needs a supportive environment to ensure that employees and organisations can get the full benefits.
Susie Phillips-Baker is an Organisational Psychologist and Executive Coach, contact Susie here for more details.