It’s fantastic that Australian organisations are becoming increasingly open to adopting flexible work initiatives, with organisations like GM Holden, Accenture and City of Melbourne winning awards for their flexible working programs. Flexibility initiatives can include changed work hours, working from different locations (including home), casual dress, and job sharing, among others. I read a great article recently that described embracing flexible work as ‘opening the door of Cell Block 9 to 5’ – whatever that looks like for your particular organisation. And it’s okay if your initiatives aren’t quite as creative as that of Amazon in Seattle – who have constructed giant ‘biospheres’ where employees can escape the office to work alongside a private jungle or stream for a few hours!
Unfortunately, however, flexibility stigma is still alive and well: the perception that employees who work flexibly are somehow less committed members of the team. Although flexible (‘flex’) work might be officially accepted on paper, there can still be an underlying distrust that flex workers might misuse the policy, or head to the beach for the day instead of finishing that proposal. Consequently, flexible work is therefore sometimes referred to as an elusive ‘workplace unicorn’: only heard of and never seen! In some organisations, it is simply the norm that people who are serious about their careers are present in the office full-time. In reality, however, research tells us that part-time workers are actually the most productive in the workforce: wasting the least amount of total work time.
Educate yourself and others
Explain the benefits of flex work to any new staff joining your team. Espouse the benefits of training: most Australian managers state that they have received no training on how to implement flex work programs. Helping managers to lead employees that they might not see every day requires a focus on outcomes rather than timesheets. Make your key messages about flexibility visible to all staff somewhere – perhaps on your intranet or noticeboard. And, showcase stories of successful flex work initiatives. Telstra regularly shares stories about their All Roles Flex program, to reduce flexibility stigma (and challenge the assumption that flex work is just for female caregivers). Some of their recent stories include: a senior lawyer who has rearranged his working week to care for his elderly parents long term, and a young woman with anxiety of crowded spaces who shifted her working hours to avoid peak hours on public transport. Flex workers can be absolutely anyone: older workers, individuals who volunteer, or those with study or sports commitments or ‘side hustles’ – anyone!
Be a role-model for flex work
Actively role model the flex work behaviours that you’re wanting to see from others, because ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. The CEO of PepsiCo offers a great example of ‘leading from the top’: he kicked off a ‘Leaders Leaving Loudly’ initiative when he noticed that his staff weren’t wholeheartedly embracing flex work policies. Now, every day, he asks his executive team to leave loudly (i.e. “I’m going to pick up my daughter from school”), so that this kind of behaviour becomes the norm, and it makes it okay for middle management or new hires to feel comfortable doing the same.
Enable flex work with the right policies
Help others to work flexibly by ensuring you have the right organisational processes, policies and structures in place. Involve your staff: talk to employees about how flexibility would work best for them personally. Review your policies to ensure that there is a clear process outlined for requesting flex work arrangements. And, as with any kind of organisational change, there may be individuals who struggle to adapt. Ensure that you maintain open lines of communication with these people, schedule regular check-ins to address their concerns, and support them to make the transition.
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