Flexing up to the future

Flexibility is not just a buzzword of the
new millennium – the UK’s most talented, experienced employees want it and companies
want the UK’s most talented, experienced workforce. But your board needs
convincing that flexibility is the way forward and they need evidence of the
benefits. Carol Savage, managing director of flexible work consultancy The
Resource Connection, begins a regular column by showing the way to shaping a
more flexible future for your organisation.

Three-quarters of UK employers believe that flexible work programmes bring
competitive advantage, and two-thirds are experiencing an increased demand for
flexible work. Yet nothing moves forward. Why?

The Employers Study, carried out by Resource Connection and the Industrial
Society, points to two possible reasons. First, HR professionals who know that
a flexible work policy is important find themselves banging their heads against
a brick wall of "status quo culture" in the boardroom.

Even those who manage to break through the corporate mindset are often
daunted by the prospect of putting their plans into effect. Second, devising a
policy that is fair to everyone is a logistical nightmare for many and others
simply lack the resources to get a programme off the ground.

It remains that flexible policies need to be implemented, yet our own
research shows that flexible options currently on offer are not being taken up
because the prevailing culture dictates that by doing so, these individuals are
committing professional suicide. But while changing that culture is always
"someone else’s problem", HR professionals now have a real
opportunity to drive strategic and cultural change and make tailor-made working
packages the norm in British business.

Over the next few months, this column will be giving you the information
needed to effect change – successful case histories of both large and small
organisations; demonstrable proof that flexibility improves the bottom line;
practical advice on how to formulate, test and implement a flexible work
policy; how to sell it to the board; how to accentuate the positives and
counteract the negatives and, most important, how to evaluate the system once
it is up and running, improve it and fine-tune it.

As a starting point, it is worth defining terms. Far from being simply an HR
issue, true flexibility is a pioneering concept which can provide all-round
business, financial and practical benefits company-wide. It is about new ways
of working for all reasons and at all levels, expanding minds to different
options for the mutual benefit of employer and employee; it is not just about
part-time and flexi hours, although these should not be discounted as elements
of a flexible mix.

Going back to the survey, 60 per cent of respondents do not believe that all
roles can be done on a flexible basis. Yet there is no reason why all levels of
responsibility cannot carry some form of flexibility, providing in each case
that the needs of the business are met. With a little imagination and a lot of
perseverance in setting benchmarks for evaluating employee output and the
rewards are significant: attracting and retaining key staff, improved morale
and motivation, lower absenteeism, greater commitment and productivity,
reduction in stress, positive PR – and maximising office space.

When it comes to the benefits of flexible work policies, the argument has
already been won in the HR department, and increasing evidence points to the
contribution the work-life balance makes to the bottom line. In his book The
100 Best Companies To Work For, US management consultant Robert Levering
correlates best practice with return on investment, and in his most recent
publication, A Great Place To Work, he shows that if you had invested £1,000 in
any of the 100 companies identified as having the best work practice policies
three years ago, you would now be enjoying £8,000 in shareholder value, versus
an average £3,000 shareholder from other top US companies from the same £1,000
investment.

The purpose of this column is to provide a forum for shared learning from a
range of companies at different stages and with different objectives. Those who
call me, write to me or e-mail me with their experiences, observations and
issues will derive most benefit from it. There is a flexible future ahead and
you are in the best position to make a case for it, and so contribute to your
company’s competitive edge.

Carol Savage can be contacted at The Resource Connection, 14 Floral Street,
London WC2, Tel 020-7379 3021, or e-mail her at resource.connection@virgin.net

A Day in the Life

The lack of a positive response from employers to Carol Savage’s need to
juggle work and family life led her to set up her own company so she could work
flexibly and offer opportunity for others to do the same.

Carol’s typical working day starts at 6.30am when she is woken by her two
children. The next two hours are spent getting herself and them ready for
nursery and the childminder. She catches a 9.09 train and arrives at her office
in central London at 9.45. The rest of the day is devoted to meetings.

At 4.45pm she heads home, and picks up her two boys at 5.30. She then
devotes her time to them up until bedtime at 8pm.

From 8 to 8.30pm she eats a meal with her husband. Then three nights a week
it is into her home office to write emails and reports until midnight.

On Fridays she works half a day at home and spends the afternoon with her
children.

She also often works on Sunday morning while her husband spends time with
their two boys. This way Carol manages to work more than 40 hours a week and
cope with a busy family life.

"Working flexibly full time takes stamina. You do not get much time for
yourself," says Carol.

She suggests it is vital that you at least spend one night a week out with
your partner to keep your relationship healthy.

The Resource Connection specialises in placing professionals into flexible
working roles and providing consultancy advice to help companies introduce new
ways of working.

www.resourceconnection.co.uk

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