Kate Maclean, Administration Officer
Jane loves her organisation. When her son was in a school play, they let her start an hour earlier in the morning, allowing her to get to his school in time. No raised eyebrows, no ‘tutting’ from her colleagues - Bruce from IT even told her to enjoy herself. After Jane had her second child she returned to work part-time without feeling or indeed being unreasonably forced to ‘downgrade’ her position. She was given full access to all her previous clients. The amount of support for Jane made sure that returning to work was the absolute natural choice for her. She always gave 110%, and was able to maintain a healthy work-life balance making her a productive and happy member of staff.
So let’s look at Matt who lives in the parallel universe of Unsupportive Management. Like Jane, Matt wanted to see his son’s school play. However, after years of working for his organisation, Matt learnt not to ask about adjusting his hours. A flexible working policy was in place, and the nature of his role meant that his time was entirely flexible, but making a flexible working request would immediately be greeted with eye-rolling and sighing. Colleagues of his who do work flexibly find that in reality their working patterns are not honoured, their managers pressure them to work late regardless. Matt decided to start a qualification in social work which was relevant to his job, the timing of the course a night school required him to leave bang on time at 5:30pm, twice a week. Unfortunately, due to the culture of presenteeism, colleagues murmured that he was not pulling his weight and resentment grew meaning he was passed over for promotion. Officially the reason was that he “was not a team player” but his manager informally said that they doubted his commitment. The situation became unbearable and stressed and disengaged, Matt left taking his experience and knowledge with him.’
This is just a story, but it highlights the reality behind an inflexible culture. The leading reason for the underutilisation of flexible working policies is a lack of support from management and, although underutilisation may sound like a good thing to some, organisations that don’t use flexible working are less likely to have individuals return from parental leave or are likely to have people return because they are forced to and are highly disengaged as a result. This disengagement becomes toxic, making the organisation less attractive as an employer.
Employees who work flexibly in environments that are hostile to such policies, are more likely to be bullied and ostracised. Conflict increases, grievance and disciplinary issues become prevalent and overall a more negative and even litigious culture is created.
When a good employee leaves your organisation, it is like having all that knowledge and experience walk out the door and with it funding, contacts and relationships that the organisation relies on. It’s not enough to have a flexible working policy – all staff, especially managers, need to embrace flexible working and understand the benefits that it can bring. Doing so can actually save you money. Such policies will off set lower salaries, less glamorous working environments and other things that cost money to provide while at the same time providing more motivation and loyalty than a pay check can ever inspire. Not only can flexible working protect you from losing your talent, it is a major drawing card for the best and brightest future employees.