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Misconceptions that hold back flexible working

All progressive companies have policies in place to enable flexible working. Human Resources touts the commercial benefits regularly but management needs a mindset shift to make it an everyday reality rather than a big deal.

To me, flexible working is often much broader than many people assume. It is no longer just about women working part time because they have young children. People care for elders, they study, they have short-term emergencies (ever waited all day for a plumber to turn up), they travel, they like to play golf early in the morning, they have family events to attend. They may be mature and experienced workers who want to reduce, but not cease, working. Our customers are also demanding flexible access to us – in the evening, on weekends and online.

Operating our lives flexibly is just the way we do things these days – we work while waiting for a plane and we check our social media accounts, do online grocery shopping and book our holidays during the day. We need to worry less about where or when the work gets done and more about whether the work does actually get done to a high standard and on time. Technology advancements have enabled the "work anywhere" concept to become a reality.

So why is it so difficult for flexible working to be the new normal? Here’s some misconceptions impeding flexibility in the workplace.

Presenteeism

– as in "you can only really be working if I can see you working". In the workplace there can be a peculiar focus on inputs rather than outcomes – the latter is actually what we pay people to deliver. I recall a very senior credit approver I worked with years ago making the decision to start at 7am, leave at 3.30pm and work again from home from 8 to 11 in the evening. This let her see her kids after school and before bed and to get the work delivered within the time required for approvals. Everyone got what they needed; the work got done. She, and everyone she told about her great employer, was delighted. In fact, for ANZ, employees using flexible working arrangements are on average 5 per cent more engaged than their counterparts. That is a measurable benefit to the company.

  

“Part timers are not really committed to their jobs."

Yes, this old chestnut still exists but with absolutely no evidence I have ever seen to back it up. In my experience part timers always work ALL the time they are meant to work – far less time at the coffee machine – and often put in extra hours outside their designated time. I have sometimes felt guilty about this happening and offered those people the opportunity to add paid hours to their normal work week but they don't mind putting in the odd hour of work here and there because they get the flexibility they need when they need it. Works well for everyone and the work gets done.

“It is too hard to manage job shares or part time workers or those who do not work standard hours."

I find it extraordinary that managers would pass up the opportunity to access talent when it is so scarce (and that's what they tell me incessantly) just because people have preferences (permanent or temporary) with their hours and/or location. Surely accessing 50 per cent of talent and skills that you really need is better than 0 per cent?

“This is something for junior people – executives can't take part in this.”

Actually, I have seen a swing in views on this in recent times. I can think of two very senior executives I know who have altered or reduced their hours for a period to enable them to deal with other commitments. How foolish would we have been to say "sorry – full time or out" when they have years of valuable experience and a key role to play. Recently I have found myself working flexibly out of London every few weeks due to some unexpected family commitments. It works and I am pleased that it has been a no-brainer to make the difficult simple. Thanks boss!

Come on leaders, use your imagination. It is not that hard and there is so much benefit in access to talent and engaged employees. Go talk to your employees now and ask them how they would like to work for the benefit of them, your company and your customers.

 

 

Susie Babani, Global Chief Human Resources Officer, ANZ

This story was first published on BlueNotes, ANZ’s news and insights publication for the financial services industry across the Asia-Pacific region.