Rise in flexible working leaves line managers feeling threatened

Line managers lack 21st Century skills and fear losing their jobs because of increasing flexible working practices, workplace experts warned last week.

Speaking at a roundtable event hosted by telecoms giant BT, Philip Flaxton, chief executive at not-for-profit organisation Work Wise UK, said managers were resisting changes in the workplace.

“They have the attitude: ‘If we empower people to work flexibly, how long before we are no longer needed?'” he said.

Caroline Waters, director for people and policy at BT, said there was a myth that having workers in the office gave managers full control.

“Managers are afraid of losing their status, their big offices and their prestige,” she said.

“HR should be telling managers that they have status because they deliver a service, not because they tell people what to do.”

Seven in 10 BT staff work flexibly, while more than 13% are home-based.

John Gundry, director at training consultancy Knowledge Ability, said many managers were hiding behind a fallacy that flexible workers could not be trusted. “They are afraid to say that they are afraid of losing their jobs,” he insisted.

Gundry added that many bosses were tyring to manage a 21st century workforce, but were equipped only with old fashioned skills, which was making them feel anxious, inferior and resistant to change.

Waters said: “Managers have to ask the question: ‘How can I make my team happier?’ However, we still face a problem of having to teach people how to manage.”

She said businesses still need to be convinced of the benefits of flexible working. HR teams need to develop a clear business case for flexibility, and communicate it in a language valued and understood by their organisation, she said.

BT showcased a number of new services, including IT and communications technology to help businesses introduce flexible working, at it’s Business Experience event last week.

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