It’s difficult these days to talk to someone about what they look for in a job without discussing flexibility. ‘Flexible working’ has become a huge desireable in the workplace, and often recruiters go to great lengths to outline the “great flexible working options that my client has!” But what does ‘flexible working’ even mean in 2017 – and is it really essential for employee engagement?
What does flexible working even mean?!
Flexible working means something different depending on who you talk to. For some, flexibility is the ability to start and finish work whenever you please (within reason…!). For others, true flexibility is only found in the ability to do your job where you please. Others again see flexible working in the embracing of technology – in other words, how you do your job.
As someone who has great passion for the ability to work flexibly, the practice for me means all three – the choice to work (or start/finish) when I want, the option to work where suits me best (and, crucially, where I’m most productive) AND the ability to use technology to influence how I work. It’s crucial, therefore, that your firm invests in the ability to facilitate this. For the most part, this means an investment in technology that frees your staff from the shackles of their desk – but also an investment in the culture of your company.
Do we NEED to offer flexibility?
For most, it seems recruitment of talented, engaged staff is becoming a challenge. Call it the ‘millennial effect’, if you will, but graduates and other prospective employees have a different set of ideals when it comes to the corporate culture that they want to adapt to. A significant part of this is an investment in flexible working.
The Deloitte Millennial survey for 2017 finds that 67% of millennials are able to start and finish work whenever they please within certain limits. A pretty big 64% also report the ability to work regularly from a location “other than their employer’s primary site” – facilitated mainly by the how factor above, being advancements in working technology.
The survey also finds that 84% of millennials report “some degree of flexibility in their working arrangements” – with 39% reporting that their employer is highly flexible in their working arrangements.
Is it possible, however, that such findings are a product of a ‘millennial fad’? Maybe it’s true that millennials are just lazy?
Not at all. In millennials (and I’m talking the more youthful end of the millennial spectrum – after all, apparently I’m one myself!) we have a generation who have grown up conditioned in the psychology of everything being ‘on demand’. It follows, therefore, that we should expect the greatest level of engagement from this generation when we provide them with the ability to engage with their work life in the manner to which they are most adept – through ever-advancing technology.
This should, logically, provide an ability for employees to work where they like. The scene that comes to mind is that of a Californian Starbucks packed with consultants working 5 hour days on their Mac whilst sipping a non-fat caramel macchiato (I have no idea what that is – I’m sincerely hoping it’s actually a coffee).
The reality, however, should be that our employees can work seamlessly on client site, or at home. In my experience, the ability to work at home on a semi-frequent basis is an easy way to ‘buy’ enhanced employee engagement. I say ‘buy’ in inverted commas because the cost is nothing. Enhanced employee engagement, together with the mental and physical health benefits of allowing someone to work at home, for no cost above the technology investment that you’ve hopefully already made – win win, no?
The bottom line is that the days of employees sat at a desk 9-5 Monday to Friday are over – at least in the real world. Employees are actively seeking flexibility – and other firms are embracing it. To not invest in an ability to work flexibly in 2017 is a strategy that can surely only fail.
What is the perfect balance of flexibility and control?
From discussing flexible working with many people over the past few years, the biggest concern from an employer point of view is the inability to directly control the output. There’s a very logical fear of having large swathes of employees sat at home, feet up, watching Friends (or whatever the millennial generation watch these days…Spongebob?) and swivelling a mouse every 90 seconds.
The important thing to remember is that flexible working must be based on trust. The trust that you need to have in your employees to deliver – which is based on good management – but also the trust that an employee needs to be able to have in their employer to facilitate it.
Building a culture of trust in flexible working means setting the tone at the top. Senior management should be seen to actively embrace flexibility – and also be seen to be delivering on their required outputs and be readily available during the working day. More junior employees should have a clear expectation of output defined – and trusted to deliver. Employees also need to see the trust that the employer has in them to deliver – trust is very much a two way street.
The important thing to remember is that flexibility can be developed over time – starting from a little bit of flexibility in working times can lead to the flexibility to work where you please, once you’ve proven that you can be trusted to make it work.
And at the end of the day, that’s what’s important – being flexible needs to work for all parties. Managed properly, and implemented effectively, the practice of flexible working can increase both productivity and employee engagement. It truly is a scenario where all parties can win. Is your company fully on board – or lagging behind?