The real benefits of flexible working conditions

By Karen Gately

 

Demand is growing for work conditions that allow people to more effectively integrate their job with the rest of their lives. As awareness grows of the need for balance between home and work, the pressure is on for employers to respond. Attracting and retaining top talent demands that employers provide a competitive offer, which includes flexible work practices.

 

Whether flexibility involves compressing work days or weeks, variable daily hours, or telecommuting, challenges exist for the employer and the employee. While undeniably real, these challenges often cause employers to look past the benefits and choose to maintain the status quo of expecting people to work nine to five in the office.

 

A common challenge for HR people striving to influence change is overcoming the limiting beliefs held by many managers. Among those most often shared is that ‘people who work from home are unlikely to be focused and productive’. Many leaders struggle to understand how they can effectively manage the performance of people who aren’t sitting in the office, where they can observe them, during predictable hours each day.

 

While challenging limiting beliefs and helping leaders to overcome their concerns is essential, influencing support for flexible work practices begins by clearly articulating benefit for the business. While its typically easy to appreciate how an individual will benefit, often more challenging is observing the flow-through value for the employer.

 

While responding to the demands of the labour market is one line of argument, it rarely inspires business leaders to shift their view, particularly when they are already struggling to achieve results through their team. Far more compelling is evidence of the impact flexible work practices has on engagement, and in turn engagement has on business performance.

 

Research consistently paints the same picture of improved business results driven by employee engagement. Productivity, quality, growth and customer loyalty are all enhanced. Corporate Leadership Council research, for example, suggests engaged organisations grow profits up to three times faster than their competitors. Gallup report that engaged business units achieve 21 per cent greater profit.

 

Engagement is reflected in the decisions people make to focus on their role, strive to achieve and stay with the organisation. Improving engagement typically has these measurable benefits:

 

  • Reduced absenteeismand tardiness.
  • Reduced staff turnover and associated hiring costs.

 

Influence engagement

 

Among the greatest influencers of how engaged people are, is the strength of their spirit; that is the depth of positive energy they have in reserve. Reflect for yourself on how much more likely you are to be engaged and perform well, when energised. In contrast, how do you think and behave when drained of energy? Do you struggle to maintain focus? Do you put off challenging work or avoid the conversations you need to have?

 

Most people struggle to maintain the mental, emotional and physical capacity required to perform well in their role when drained of energy. The more energised we are, the more able and likely we are to choose to behave successfully. Providing flexible work practices has the potential to energise people in many ways, some of which include these:

 

Build trust and respect

Working with people to agree how and when they work demonstrates respect and contributes to building a strong relationship built on trust. Demonstrating regard for the demands of the individual’s wellbeing and personal life typically earns trust. Being willing to provide flexible solutions that allow people to thrive at work and more broadly in life, is key.

 

Empower
Feeling trusted to work autonomously and empowered to get on with doing our job is energising to most people. Most also appreciate the opportunity to structure their work to more harmoniously fit with the broader demands of life. Equally energising is the feeling of being empowered to manage the demands of their role and determine how best to succeed.

 

Optimise time

Work to accommodate the ability for people to work when they are most likely to be at their best and accomplish most. While of course this can change from day to day, most people have certain times of day that better suit them. Consider preferences and life demands. For example, morning versus night people or parents of young children versus everyone else.

 

The benefits of flexible work practice extend beyond those relating to engagement and retention. Equally valuable are the benefits gained in attracting top talent in a competitive labour market.

 

Be an employer of choice

Your ability to offer flexible work practices is essential to attracting those candidates who are in a position to choose. High performers with a strong track record of success are able to choose the best employer for them. Flexibility is of particular concern to those among the millennial generation, parents, and those caring for disabled or elderly loved ones.

 

Deepen talent pools

Flexible work policies go some way toward opening up opportunities to talented people otherwise closed off by traditional nine-to-five office-based employment. Stay-at-home parents, retirees and professionals with disabilities are all encouraged into the workforce through flexible work options.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Getting the Best from People (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving Extraordinary Results Through Spirited People. To find out more, visit www.karengately.com.au or email [email protected]

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