‘A flexible culture needs to start with recruitment’
When she set up Workingmums.co.uk 10 years ago, Gillian Nissim wanted to bring together employees who had years of experience – but needed more flexibility – and employers who understood the value of offering this form of working; whether that meant part-time work or full-time work with flexi hours, homeworking or some other form of flexibility.
At the time, flexible working was still very much viewed as a favour bestowed on parents by employers. Gillian had to make the case for why it was also a benefit to business. She found that, while some employers could see the benefits, others were harder to persuade. Partly this was due to a lack of research on what those benefits were.
Ten years on and there is a lot of research which shows the benefits are clear. They include higher retention rates, lower absence rates, more motivated and productive staff and a more diverse workforce. The right to request flexible working has been extended to all and employers and government talk about normalising flexible working.
What has been slower to change, however, is the number of employers who openly advertise that new jobs can be done on a flexible basis or that they are open to discussing different ways of working.
The right to request flexible working still only kicks in six months after someone has started a new role so, if they were working flexibly beforehand and need that flexibility to continue working, it is still very much left down to them to negotiate it as part of the recruitment process.
That puts many in a difficult position and may dissuade some from moving employer and progressing their career, which seems to be in no-one’s interests.
Age of disruption
What is more, over the last 10 years, the world of work has changed hugely, fuelled by technological advances. Disruption is now the name of the game and established companies are finding themselves under threat from new, more dynamic upstarts, many of whom have capitalised on the kind of any time any place working which technology enables.
Leadership experts Kate Sweetman and Shane Cragun’s new book, Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption, says the core skills needed by businesses in today’s world include flexibility and adaptability to change and they describe how leaders need to plan in advance for disruption, not wait for it to happen. Those who do will be more likely to survive and prosper, they argue. That means adopting flexibility as a modus operandi, not an ad hoc extra, awarded on a case by case basis to those who request it.
Sweetman says that flexible working and work life balance are key aspects of companies that will thrive in the age of disruption because they understand the need for mutual respect between employee and employer. “That kind of culture will benefit women,” she states. But she warns flexible working cannot be bolted on. It has to be in the culture; it has to be “the new normal”, she says.
Work has come a long way in 10 years, but to be ready for the next 10, employers need to embrace flexible working as a core principle. That begins with recruitment.