Get with the flexibility program

by 25 Jul 2007

By Craig Donaldson

Providing flexibility around employee working hours is not a new concept. It has been around in different shapes and forms for many years, and only now is the idea beginning to gain widespread acceptance.

There have probably been thousands of surveys in recent times pointing to the importance of workplace flexibility and its role in attracting and retaining employees. Traditionally many companies have paid lip service to the idea, with HR policies on workplace flexibility gathering dust while baby boomer managers insist that their staff are not working unless they’re at their desk for a minimum of eight hours a day.

However, this is changing. It is becoming increasingly obvious that more and more companies are struggling with staff shortages and skill gaps, and are being forced to look at options such as real and meaningful workplace flexibility initiatives. While any company can have fantastic work-life balance policies, these are useless unless a company’s leadership team lives them and there is a culture of give and take around workplace flexibility permeating an organisation.

As Pierric Beckert, managing director of American Express Australia, says in our profile on page 14, providing workplace flexibility does not have to be a win-lose situation. It’s important to provide choices for employees in terms of what works for them and what works for the business. This, he says, makes a big difference to employee engagement. The fact that a company is willing to work constructively with employees rather than laying down “my way or the highway” working hour laws can do wonders for morale and trust.

This starts with a flexible mindset from the top and from a company’s managers, and this is where most companies get stuck. It’s partly a generational issue, and often a reflection of a stubbornness of unwillingness to change. Where this is the case, unfortunately it is most often reflected in the company culture.

Such companies are missing out on opportunities, such as providing flexible working options, which more flexible and nimble thinking competitors are taking advantage of by adding one more string to their bow when it comes to attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent.