Human Flourishing
Not prioritizing Flex Work? You won’t like what’s really going on
Gillian Brookes
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In my hometown, I get more unsolicited emails and messages from one particular organization than any other. It’s led by a chief executive who doesn’t believe in the benefits of flex work. The emails and messages I receive are from frustrated employees and leaders who wish they had access to the kind of flex work that other similar organizations now take for granted.

Everyone else in my hometown knows how inflexible that organization is in reality. I have reached out to this chief executive recently to let him know, candidly and sensitively of course, that all is not well within his organisation. I have offered my help and even offered it for free, given how far behind they are compared to the rest of our city. So far, I haven’t had a reply!

Flex goes underground

What’s happening inside his organization is that flexibility is being offered, but leaders are doing it under the radar. Clandestine arrangements are being put in place so that leaders can do what they can to retain their team members and avoid the pain and cost of losing them to another company down the road. These deals are being inconsistently applied, often favoring the top performers, and creating resentment across teams and different parts of the business. 

It’s a lose-lose situation

The organization is missing out on potential productivity gains and they’re also accepting a higher risk of burnout and stress levels across their workforce. They’ve given themselves one less lever in their carbon emissions reduction strategy. With flexibility, you can reduce your workforce’s commuting and property needs, which significantly reduces your carbon emissions. 

If you’re not prioritizing flex, this is the kind of scenario you can expect. Your leaders will be giving people flexibility anyway and they will be doing it inconsistently. They’ll be undermining what you thought was going on by putting flex deals in place. These bad habits eat away at your leadership trust and cohesion. You’re also missing out on the kind of benefits you can expect if you were to bring flex out into the light. 

You’re probably spending eight percent more on salary than you need to, which is on average how much flexible workers value their ways of working. You’ll be selling yourself short when it comes to attracting and retaining the right people, especially with underrepresented groups including women, people with disabilities, and people from minority backgrounds.  

You might expect that I’ll tell you to release the shackles, open up all types of flex across your entire organization, and open the floodgates. 

No, don’t do that either. You’ll just get chaos and it’ll make you wish you’d left it well alone! 

By doing that you’ll end up with flex arrangements in place that don’t work. I’ve met enough flex-hesitant leaders over the years who have good reasons for being cautious. Here’s how you can avoid going from bad to worse when you open up more flex.

Start with a strategy

First, develop a workforce strategy that lines up with what your organization is trying to achieve.

  • What ways of working are going to help you deliver on that strategy?
  • How will that differ across different parts of your workforce?
  • How can you make that clear and measurable?

You’ll want to track your progress as well as look out for unintended consequences. This way you’ll adjust, do more of the good stuff, and let go of what isn’t working.

Building new skills

Next, support your leaders and team members to build the skills that they need for success in today’s flexible world of work. Training your managers to make great flexible work decisions with their teams is critical. They are exhausted right now. The world of work changed so drastically in the last three years and they are tired of having to work it out on their own. Give them the cheat codes and they will deliver for you, just as they have in the past. Avoid the common mistake of relying on a policy and an email launch with a video from the chief executive. This flex shift needs to be a lot better supported than that.

Make flex your priority

If you want to lean into the new and fast-evolving world of work, prioritize flex, but do it in the right way. You’ll find that you’ll attract and retain the right people, make significant productivity gains, reduce your risk of workforce burnout, and significantly reduce your carbon emissions while taking the pressure off your salary bill.

So, why wouldn’t you?

Flex expert and workforce strategist based in Wellington, New Zealand. She is also the author of Flexperts – getting the best from flex in a world that’s ever changing. Gillian’s Flexperts course also helps managers get the best from flexible working.

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