Why do we still need to talk about flexibility?
In the first of two part blog series Halebury lawyer, Rachael Davidson, disucusses why flexibility is a great tool for managers to use to retain talent.
I think the single most important thing in an organisation is the talent within it. You can be the best manager, have all the management tools, but without great talent beside you, you’ll just be running in place like a turkey instead of soaring like an eagle.
And to get that great talent I firmly believe that flexibility is one of your best tools.
On 30 June 2014, the right to ask for flexible working became an option for all employees. The request to ask is no longer reserved only for those that have responsibility for looking after children or are careers. This is a good start to making it a more widely available option, but these are still untested, and it is expected that for a good while yet in practice it will continue to be a bit ad hoc, and sometimes a lottery of who has a sympathetic manager who is ready to go into bat for you or even a case of who asked first. Not really a way to engender team spirit. Additionally, with the downturn in the economy it seemed that some organisations turned against flexibility, moving back to more rigid systems that they thought would make it easier to measure productivity and output. That meant people at their desks, heads down.
But increasingly we live in an environment where our clients expect 24/7 service and availability. From my experience an organisation that doesn’t embrace flexibility will exhaust itself and its people. Instead, I think finding ways to accommodate all the needs and demands that people have in their busy lives while delivering the goals and objectives of your business delivers more for everyone. Here’s why:
Value: Flexibility is an easy and simple way to make people feel they are valued. And employees who feel valued are more likely to make greater contributions to an organisation. When people are engaged they don’t leave their jobs behind when they leave the office (or home desk). They think about ways to solve the problem or improve the result, even if that is while they are feeding the kids dinner or getting in their afternoon sports session. An employee who is able to pursue all of their life interests can bring all of that inspiration to solving their work challenges.
Buy-In: A team needs flexibility for everyone. Sure, it needs to cater for working parents, but to be really powerful it needs to accommodate everyone whatever their work-life needs. It means flexibility to accommodate not just those juggling the school run and childcare deadlines but also the team member who wants to finish at a different time to fit in a personal interest, or start later to visit a parent. While it can take practice and can be difficult to get started if you have had rigid timesheets or a 9-5 desk culture, if you can treat a team with respect and trust while giving them flexibility I’ve found they will reward you with loyalty and buy-in far beyond what their pay packet will buy you.
Better Morale: There is evidence that businesses that have good flexibility have lower rates of staff turnover, sickness and stress and higher levels of productivity. If people can feel in control, able to flex their working lives as they manage life outside work, they enjoy their jobs more and feel empowered. Better morale means better output for the business.
More Talent: All of these reasons come back to getting the best talent into your ogranisation. A business that embraces flexibility has an easier time attracting and retaining the best talent. Most people want to work in places where they will be treated like adults, where the outcome is key rather than how it was done. An organisation that embraces flexible working can focus on what needs to be done to solve the problem, rather than when and how it is done.
There are challenges to flexible working – less corridor chat and co-location meeting of the minds, as well as more management time to balance schedules and workloads. But if you are treating your team as adults and valuing the contributions they make the gains from flexibility can be huge.
Championing flexibility is a great leadership tool. It should be standard, not special.