Flexible working practices and engagement

July 26th, 2011 by sarahgreen Leave a reply »

At Zircon we believe that developing a work environment that leads to engaged, successful and high performing employees can really add value to the bottom line. A clear way to help achieve engagement is to ensure that employees are able to balance their work and their home lives effectively to reduce stress and ensure they engage and deliver to the best of their ability. Research shows that flexible working that balances the individual and organisational needs has real business benefit and yet many organisations are not fully embracing flexible approaches to work.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working can be a variation in either hours or work place and there are a range of creative and innovative solutions that business can explore including compressed hours, term time only or zero hours contracts, home working, work based or peripatetic. Whilst there are pockets of excellent practice in certain organisations the standard approach to work is still the traditional approach of work based fixed 9 – 5 working.

Myths exploded

The perception still exists that it is just women with families who want more flexibility. However research shows that men too have caring responsibilities or other community commitments and might want to explore a more flexible approach to balancing these commitments with their work demands. And research in generation Y and the millennial generation shows that flexibility is also attractive to younger employees. Recent studies have shown that job satisfaction and engagement has dropped significantly among the 18-24 year olds and if organisations are to be attractive employers that attract future talent they need to look at what they offer this group in terms of choice and flexibility.

So what do companies need to do?

The first step is to assess the current picture – many organisations may be surprised at how much flexibility they already have in working practice and there may be pockets of excellence that are leader led in different parts of the organisation. But to arrive at a systematic and strategic approach HR or Diversity Partners must first ensure support at a high level in the organisation that leads to a change in mindset and overcomes the traditional barriers or objections that some line managers may throw up if asked to consider a more flexible working environment.

Having got sponsorship at a senior organisational level the next step is to change preconceived notions that flexibility is required by only a certain group of people – namely women who have children. Then training and support for managers will need to be implemented to help them re-think the way they manage and understand how technology can support a variety of methods of flexible work. Managing workers who aren’t always in the office requires a different skills set and an approach that measures performance and results rather than presence or absence. This in turn requires clarity in setting standards and expectations and a relationship with employees that is based on trust. And as with any managed change the business needs to understand the impact on working practice, talent management approaches, technological developments, use of work spaces.

One organisation that is in the middle of a successful diversification programme advocates classifying jobs into those that need to be based in the organisation, those that can be a mixture of work/home based, those that are peripatetic and those that are completely homebased. This then determines technology, work space requirements and working practices which are matched to jobs. They provide managers with an analysis tool to help determine if a job is suitable for flexible working and design their offices to offer different types of work space for different job functions.

Working with workers in the virtual world can be really successful if it is built on a foundation of trust and clarity. Key steps to doing this are setting up a homeworking agreement or contract that defines the following:

1. No of hours to be committed to working
2. Standards of work and how they are to be measured
3. Guidance on health and safety including break times
4. How, when and how often the worker will be in contact with their manager and their team colleagues
5. Specified times when the manager or colleagues will be available
6. Connection to the team via online team meetings, instant messaging, regular updates
7. Frequency and methods of training, for example use of online training

All this is a challenge when the day to day business is the main focus, particularly at tough times, but organisations that are future focused and evolve their practice are those that are successful. If you would like some help in understanding the issues for your organisation and defining an engagement strategy that impacts on the bottom line then please phone Dr Amanda Potter on 01737 555 862.

Written by Catherine Farrant. July 2011.

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