Flexible working and the Equalities Review: head to head

The Equalities Review has prompted huge debate on diversity in the workplace (Personnel Today, 6 March). But is changing your work culture so that more employees can work flexibly really good for business? Two experts argue their case.



FOR: Flexibility is good for business
Norma Jarboe, director, Opportunity Now


I strongly believe that equality and diversity are business-critical issues. When employers develop and encourage truly diverse work cultures they can make their organisations more successful, more competitive and more dynamic. Success is what diversity in the workplace is all about, and if people see it as merely pandering to individual lifestyle choices, they are showing a lack of understanding for changing demographics and issues of human capital management.


Equality and diversity mean that both women and men can reach their full potential, while enabling employers to maximise their flexibility, innovation and customer focus. Ensuring we make the most of talent has never been more important for individuals, business or the economy. The benefits of getting this right cannot be underestimated.


There are a number of studies that show a link between gender distribution in a company’s management and its profitability. Research from the US shows companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams delivered more than 35% higher return on equity and 34% higher total return to shareholders than companies with the lowest representation.


Reducing gender segregation and increasing women’s employment generally could benefit the UK economy by up to £23bn, equivalent to 2% gross national product.


Research shows there is already a skills shortage, with 11% of employees considered by their employers to be less than proficient in their job. Employers already identify major skills gaps in communication, customer handling, and teamworking. Is it that the skills aren’t out there, or that they not being used because job roles are still not designed with flexibility at their heart?


Some 5.6 million women and men who work part-time are working below their full potential – one in five of the working population of the UK. Five in every 10 part-timers have previously held a job requiring a higher level of skills, qualifications, or more management responsibility.


I believe the provision of more flexible roles is a key step forward in creating more inclusive workplaces and, significantly, a way of addressing the need for talent. If organisations are to benefit from the best available people then flexibility in job design will become a must, not a nice-to-do. Organisations that have taken this message to heart are reaping the rewards.


BT, one of our corporate champions, estimates that its flexible work culture has saved it more than £510m per year in office costs, while its homeworkers are on average 20% more productive than their office-based colleagues.


Moving to a flexible work culture is not easy or straightforward and demands commitment, dedication and leadership. But making flexibility the norm rather than an irritant could be a win-win for all. We cannot as a society adopt a stance that mitigates against women having a career and a family.



AGAINST: Flexibility is bad for business
Lesley Nash, managing director, Changework Now


“A partnered mother with a child aged under 11 is 45% less likely to be in work than a partnered man,” the Equalities Review says. Why, in spite of all the legislation that threatens businesses small and large alike, does this tend to be the case?


Can it really be that businesses, if they are to survive in the competitive environment, want, prefer and maybe even need to hire staff who will make the best and fullest contribution possible? Staff who can focus on the job in hand 100% because it is of primary importance to them, and who are willing and able to do what it takes to get the job done?


At Changework Now [a technology-based HR consultancy] I need staff who are able to work full time (yes, full time), and sometimes more, because they put the customer first. My customers expect excellent service and for our organisation to go the extra mile. I can’t provide that unless our people are willing and happy to go the extra mile, too. Customers don’t care if we have childcare issues, whether we are fully staffed, or whether we have people on short- or long-term sickness they just want a good job delivered.


For starters, mothers with children under 11, whose work is not of primary importance, are likely to have at least three times the amount of sickness: once if they are sick, twice if the child is sick, and three times if the childminder is sick. Mothers who view their work as highly important will often go the extra mile themselves to balance the needs of the two. Can I afford to run a business with employees who can’t or won’t balance the two? No, I cannot.


The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development predicts that staff will soon resent the privileges given to parents and carers. But this is happening already.


The changes in maternity and paternity leave mean more time off work, but the government says the cost to businesses will be “quite small” (up to £70m). Any extra time off our people take increases the burden on others and costs money because I have fewer people producing the outcome that the client demands.


It’s not ‘one size fits all’ as the government in its heavy-handed and blunt way seems to think.


Legislating that people have a right to request non-standard working hours and locations puts many employers in a difficult position. Some types of organisation may have roles that lend themselves to part-time and/or homeworking. We don’t and it is shocking that the ‘organisation’ is treated as guilty until proven otherwise.


I feel even sorrier for large organisations, which many people think are big enough for these things not to make a difference. That’s rubbish. It does – no matter how big or small you are. Employees need to be ‘fit for purpose’ just as much as our products and services need to be. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.e_SClB”A partnered mother with a child aged under 11 is 45% less likely to be in work than a partnered man,” the Equalities Review says. Why, in spite of all the legislation that threatens businesses small and large alike, does this tend to be the case?


Can it really be that businesses, if they are to survive in the competitive environment, want, prefer and maybe even need to hire staff who will make the best and fullest contribution possible? Staff who can focus on the job in hand 100% because it is of primary importance to them, and who are willing and able to do what it takes to get the job done?


At Changework Now [a technology-based HR consultancy] I need staff who are able to work full time (yes, full time), and sometimes more, because they put the customer first. My customers expect excellent service and for our organisation to go the extra mile. I can’t provide that unless our people are willing and happy to go the extra mile, too. Customers don’t care if we have childcare issues, whether we are fully staffed, or whether we have people on short- or long-term sickness they just want a good job delivered.


For starters, mothers with children under 11, whose work is not of primary importance, are likely to have at least three times the amount of sickness: once if they are sick, twice if the child is sick, and three times if the childminder is sick. Mothers who view their work as highly important will often go the extra mile themselves to balance the needs of the two. Can I afford to run a business with employees who can’t or won’t balance the two? No, I cannot.


The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development predicts that staff will soon resent the privileges given to parents and carers. But this is happening already.


The changes in maternity and paternity leave mean more time off work, but the government says the cost to businesses will be “quite small” (up to £70m). Any extra time off our people take increases the burden on others and costs money because I have fewer people producing the outcome that the client demands.


It’s not ‘one size fits all’ as the government in its heavy-handed and blunt way seems to think.


Legislating that people have a right to request non-standard working hours and locations puts many employers in a difficult position. Some types of organisation may have roles that lend themselves to part-time and/or homeworking. We don’t and it is shocking that the ‘organisation’ is treated as guilty until proven otherwise.


I feel even sorrier for large organisations, which many people think are big enough for these things not to make a difference. That’s rubbish. It does – no matter how big or small you are. Employees need to be ‘fit for purpose’ just as much as our products and services need to be. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.


What do you think?


E-mail your views to personneltoday@rbi.co.uk

Comments are closed.