The previous Flexible Working column (Personnel Today, 20 June) discussed running a successful pilot scheme of a flexible working policy by sampling a cross-section of the organisation. You now have the board on your side, so, what is stopping the move from policy to practice?
Middle management barrier
The most likely barrier will be middle managers – the same people who are working longer hours in the belief that equals commitment, getting stressed, perhaps drinking too much to unwind and often being the least productive.
A survey of managers in 24 countries, by Cary Cooper, Bupa professor of psychology at the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, found three out of four UK managers work more than their contracted hours and 54 per cent continue to work in the evening. Some 71 per cent believe work is damaging their health, 79 per cent say it has a detrimental effect on their relationship with their partner and 86 per cent think it harms their relationship with their children.
So why do Britons consistently clock up more hours than any other European nation – despite the Working Time directive?
How can we encourage middle managers to open their minds to flexible working?
Cultural change is always difficult as it affects people at their very core, challenging them to reconsider what they’ve always held true – so tread carefully.
One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate how it can work is through success stories. Share details of how the pilot has worked by interviewing the people who took part and their colleagues and line managers. Ask what they feel are the benefits of and barriers to flexible working.
Support middle managers. Teach them how to manage their teams at different times and locations. Help them co-ordinate so they can still reap the benefits of teamwork.
Any issues are best tackled head on, in a positive spirit, as Alison Winch, training and development director at Interbrew, discovered when she decided to work flexibly after having her second child. “Initially, my team had issues. They wanted to know how they were going to work for someone who wasn’t there all the time. It’s solely about attitude. The technology is there – you can always be in touch.”
Break with tradition
But Winch believes a “pecking order” of reasons for wanting flexibility exists. “Arranging work hours around leisure pursuits still isn’t seen as a good enough reason to go flexible. Children are, because you’re being a good person and looking after a child. It’s about trust and the need of the individual. We need to move away from the traditional command and control work culture.”
Flexible working is not about skiving – it’s about working differently. Negate the “if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile” attitude. It has to be a two-way street – it’s all about trust.