Flexibility in the workplace is becoming the norm. Employees are increasingly seeking flexibility in when, where and how they work. This growing demand is rooted in shifts in workforce demographics, accompanied by changing expectations of that old idiosyncrasy the work-life balance! An ever aging population means employees are staying in the workplace longer, often with a much more flexible arrangement. And the current generation of new recruits, AKA the millennial, has very different work expectations than their baby boomer parents. Survey after survey has shown what millennials want most is to work flexibly.
What does the phrase “flexible working” mean to you? Does it conjure up images of people putting the washing on, getting some ironing done, perhaps catching up on a Netflix box-set while keeping an eye out for a new email? Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that employers can be suspicious of employees working from home and feel they won’t get full efficiency from them. It’s easy to see how flexible working benefits the employee, but what’s in it for the employer?
Enabling employees to work flexibly increases morale, commitment and widens the scope for recruiting the best skilled individual for a role. Employees that have a better work-life integration demonstrate a greater job satisfaction with lower absenteeism, greater productivity and improved retention. With the technological capabilities available to businesses today it’s easier and more cost effective than ever to enable employees to work flexibly, in particular from home. Most roles can, in part at least, be carried out without having to leave your home and there will be no chance of a breakdown on the harbour bridge stopping you from making that important early conference call.
The Deloitte 2017 Millennial Survey reveals that “flexible working continues to be a feature of most millennials’ working lives and is linked to improved organisational performance, personal benefit, and loyalty”. The report further observes the solid foundation of trust that enables organisations to increasingly offer and operate flexible working arrangements. Overall, 84% of millennials reported some degree of flexible working ranging from flexible start and finish times, flexible roles, flexible recruitment and flexible locations including work from home.
These arrangements are not identified as “simply a nice to have” but as being strongly linked to improved performance, employee retention and loyalty. The report concludes that “millennials appear to want the best of both worlds, freelance flexibility with full-time stability”. For them, it is not about work-life balance, but rather integration.
Australian organisations are increasingly realising that, to retain talent and remain relevant, they need to prepare for a future where flexible work is standard in any role. It’s no longer just a Google thing, major employers on our doorstep like Telstra and Westpac are reaping the benefits of championing flexible working and setting their employees up with agile work environments.
- More than 63% of Westpac employees work flexibly and flexibility is viewed as a crucial enabler of gender equity.
- Westpac launched its “All in Flex” campaign in June 2015, which ensures all 40,000 existing roles globally are considered for flexible working, as well as any new roles created.
Westpac now requires people leaders to be overt and proactive about flexibility conversations with their teams. As part of the change, people leaders are required to do five key things to encourage a more flexible workforce:
- Make yes the default answer.
- Put flexibility on the agenda at team meetings.
- Understand the flex options and resources available.
- Raise flexibility as a key benefit.
- Role model flexibility.
An additional component of Westpac’s flexibility journey is its physical shift to agile and activity-based working environments, with more than 10,000 employees in the corporate offices of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane working in an agile environment.
Today, flexibility is the starting point for working at Telstra. The focus is on outcomes, not face time, and Telstra uses technology, workplace design and new attitudes to support how employees work. Telstra is focused on ongoing, localised coaching for leaders around the business case for and benefits of flexibility, setting clear guidelines for how leaders should assess requests and encouraging the sharing of both challenges and positive cases of flexibility.
The business adopted the approach called “All Roles Flex” and its hallmarks are evident, including:
- Applying advanced technology like video conferencing as standard practice, smartphone technology for all employees, and a new attitude to flexibility.
- Flexibility as a real component of team and individual discussions around performance planning and expectations.
- Telstra has seen sustained improvements in terms of gender equality as a result of its openness to and enablement of more flexible ways of working.
CULTURE IS KING
One of the great parts of my job is that i get to see behind the front door of a lot of different companies and one consistent theme that i’m seeing is the awakening to work-life integration and its dominance in the workplace. As a recruiter i’ve seen how the agenda has changed over the past few years and the overriding narrative that culture is king. The world of work continues to evolve and even more jobs can now be done flexibly, technology now enables this so all we need now is the enabling culture.
IS YOUR BUSINESS WORK-LIFE INTEGRATED?
- Do you understand the commercial imperative for flexible working in your business?
- Is there demonstrated commitment to flexible working from the leadership team?
- Have you challenged the design of each role to ensure it can be performed flexibly?
- Are all high-impact, challenging roles developed for employees working flexibly?
- Is a flexible working onboarding process and training set up for employees and managers?
- Are lessons learned codified and shared?
- Is the technology set up to enable employees to work from anywhere?
- Are policies regarding benefits, promotion processes clearly defined and communicated?
Companies need to provide access to quality flexible work options that are correctly scoped and actively supported and it It is imperative for the leaders within these companies to do a they say and stamp their ownership of this flexibility and to make sure that it cascades throughout the entire business.
THE MUST DO’S
- Actively encourage and role model the uptake of flexible work arrangements and make them standard for every role, including the most senior roles. Simply offering flexibility is not enough, the tipping point in employee advocacy comes when flexible arrangements are widely used.
- Ensure flexible arrangements are working successfully for all. Organisations that promote flexible models for both men and women will signal a culture that embraces different working styles and is outcome-oriented.
- Most important, the right culture and active support need to be in place, employees need a visible commitment from the leadership team.
- Organisations must ensure the right policies, technology and agile work environment are in place and are working well.
WORK-LIFE INTEGRATION = TRUST = HAPPINESS
Our Scandinavian cousins are often the reference point when we talk about lifestyle and in fact there is a lot to be learned from the balanced and ethical approach that they live by, specifically their approach to work.
Take the Danish for instance. A balanced, fair, and conscientious approach to work and life puts the Danes ahead many other nations when it comes to achieving that coveted work-life balance. Balance is the cornerstone of business culture in Denmark with a lifestyle that sets the bar for aspiring countries worldwide. Work ferociously between the hours of 8am and 4pm, but stay any later than 4pm and expect your time management capabilities to come under scrutiny. In Denmark, you are expected to work independently and show initiative. Punctuality is expected in meetings, and deadlines should be met, but otherwise, you’re free to carry your work where and when you wish.
The 37 hour working week comes with a degree of flexibility that other countries aspire to emulate. And it’s not just a trend. Research shows that workers are 12% more productive when in a positive state of mind, which might explain why Denmark is the second most productive country in the EU. They also boast the highest number of women in the workplace, currently at 75%, and 43% of Danish employees can regulate their working hours to meet their private needs. The Danish working culture is built around communication, collaboration and personal responsibility. Workers are expected to take initiative, get the job done properly, and meet deadlines, regardless of whether they choose to work on site or from home. There’s also a strong element of trust that succeeds all flexible, remote working opportunities. But that’s perhaps where we can learn from the Danes. While they enjoy a high degree of autonomy, empowerment, and initiative, productivity peaks.
A happier workforce makes for a more productive workforce, and, according to the World Happiness Report, Danes rank number one. It’s not uncommon for an office in Denmark to be completely deserted by 4.30pm – a concept that seems alien to most Aussies. In saying that though, Australian organisations have built some good foundations for a flexible workforce. What is now required to unlock the potential productivity benefits of flexible working is a strong commitment from business leaders, changes in community attitudes and relevant policies from governments. The obstacles that remain are surmountable, and the potential benefits significant. If you want work-life integration don’t wait for the structure to change, for the leadership to change – be brave and have the conversation.