Why flexible working needs to be viewed as progression not regression

Flexible workingBusinesses are nervous. Everywhere they turn, people are talking about flexible working, and the threat of losing great talent has never been more real.

There’s a misunderstanding, still, that flexible working, happy customers and strong work culture can’t all work in tandem. Businesses sit and worry about things like: how do the team communicate when they never see each other, or how do I monitor that my employees are doing their job properly? Won’t they just go to the gym or hang out with their kids?

Many still have the view that flexible working is taking a backwards step from the ‘efficient’ 9-5.

Flexible working means many things to many people

Over my career journey, I have learned many definitions and interpretations of flexible working, witnessing some incredible success stories and some downright disasters. However, when done well, flexible working is the furthest thing from regression imaginable.

Historically, flexible working meant what we now know as law –  businesses required to consider flexible working requests but not necessarily having to do much more. But society’s expectation has moved on from a cursory glance followed by a swift refusal; flexible working is not simply a request anymore, it’s a functional human need and one that needs a serious and effective justification as to why it wouldn’t work within a business.

Unfortunately, too many businesses weren’t, and still aren’t, taking these requests seriously and are ultimately forcing employees to like it or lump it. Queue an enormous, untapped pool of resource.

The true meaning of regression 

Bluntly, regression and flexible working simply, in my mind, don’t work together. To expect employees to battle through the day-to-day without any kind of leeway, trust, empathy or understanding is regressive. However, being aware of mental health in the workplace, stress-related physical issues and the financial impact sick days have on businesses are all progressive steps towards supporting and implementing flexible working.

We also now know that anyone and everyone can need flexibility. “Mums” are not the only ones in need, it also applies to the hands-on Dad, the winding down grandparent, the burnt out FTSE100 CEO, the guy that recently travelled to India and wants to re-train as a yoga teacher.

Flexible working is a progressive, modern practice because the need for it it represents today’s world.

Flexible working in practice

Flexible working doesn’t have to follow  a ‘you-choose-your-hours’ policy only. Whilst that may work for some businesses, it may not for others. I would argue that’s the beauty of flexible working – it’s not, and it shouldn’t be, one-size-fits-all.

No matter how your business is structured, the most important thing to do when considering flexible working is to listen to both your employees and your customers, not focusing on one over the other.

Thinking like this means that a business can set out what works best for everyone using the myriad of flexible tools available to them: core hours, 4-day weeks, job shares, working from home, weekly team meetings; there are a whole host of tactics and one is bound to work.

Flexible working means a culture change

Anna Whitehouse, AKA Mother Pukka, is famous for the line she has heard the most from businesses: “if I say yes to you, it will open the floodgates”.

But is that so bad? So what if everyone requests flexible working, doesn’t that mean they’re invested enough in the company to want to be able to perform to their best ability at all times instead of fighting and constantly compromising.

One thing is for certain, ignoring it all and hoping for the best is a surefire way to damage your business’ culture, likely also to result in a loss of talent in the long term.

The insight that comes from this two way exchange is culture changing in itself. And isn’t that they very definition of progression? You can impact lives, not just jobs.

What is the impact?

Surprising things happen when you implement flexible working.

The novelty of not being in the office quickly wears off. Lots of people hate working at home. They are surrounded by washing, empty cupboards, a play room that needs tidying. Very quickly they come back into the office again!

All jokes aside, lots of people come in early, holiday requests go down, sickness plummets. The benefits are well documented but I’ve seen them first hand, time and time again.

Flexible working is the ultimate progression

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter why people need flexible working. It matters whether businesses really understand their people.

This isn’t a choice anymore, it’s an expectation. But it doesn’t have to be one that impinges on your customer offering, it can be done well and it can be done in consideration of everyones’ needs – it can be done flexibly!

Jessica HeagrenAbout the author

Jessica Heagren – CEO and Founder, That Works For Me

That Works For Me is a professional career matching service like no other bringing together. We match open minded businesses with talent and exceptional skill in need of flexible work, and provide opportunities, coaching and confidence-building for individuals searching for real work life balance. If you’re looking for flexible work, check it out! If you’re a business that needs help with a role or a short term project, check it out!


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