Flexibility is nothing new, and businesses are at varying points of the journey in terms of understanding and being supportive of flexibility requests. It is increasingly sought after and expected by employees as part of their attraction to an employer, and it can be a high driver of engagement and discretionary effort. It is ultimately, the Future of Work: there are many roles that really can be done at any time or location, and yet the conversation can still be difficult to have.
It IS reasonable for managers and businesses to be concerned about how the work will get done, how customers will be supported, how the team will operate, etc.; but the focus needs to be on finding ways to make it work, rather than just why it can’t be done. Unfortunately though, many managers and businesses have had bad experiences in the past with flexible work arrangements, whether it be someone ‘working from home’ (read: at the golf course / never contactable) or being part time and never getting the work done. Uncovering and acknowledging these biases, as well as finding ways to allay their concerns and overcome their resistance, is essential.
When returning to work from parental leave after my first child, at a similar time to a colleague, we approached our manager about performing our role together on a job share basis. The role had never been performed other than full time previously, and the concern was that it could not be done. Being passionate about advocating flexibility and our idea that the role absolutely could be done on a job share basis, we proposed a trial period for 6 months, with regular reviews and feedback throughout, to focus on how it was working on a practical basis.
We believed strongly in what we could bring to the role together, particularly the depth and breadth of our combined 20 years of experience (being essentially ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’) and having worked together for a number of years, our strong knowledge of each other’s working style, enabling us to work seamlessly between one another. We also met with an Executive across our extended team who had worked in job share partnerships in the past, to ask her experience of what worked and what didn’t, and advice for us to be successful from the outset. She was able to give us some great ideas and support for our planned approach to our role.
We wanted to be successful on purpose, not by accident, and so with our ideas and feedback we had gathered, we created a Job Share Success Plan. Here’s how we approached it:
1. Brainstorming Session: We brainstormed all of the things that we knew we would face as concerns of what could go wrong, both from the perspective of our manager and also our internal clients, such as how we would be available to support them, how we would balance the workload between us, manage handovers, etc. For every item, we put in place an action or process to overcome it or prevent it from occurring. Beyond just disarming potential resistance, we also advocated the benefits of our flexible working arrangement and the positive elements we could bring to the role as one.
2. Offer a trial period: A trial period creates comfort for a manager as they don’t have to commit to something that they are unsure of. We viewed this period as being our opportunity to demonstrate how it could be successful, and allay the concerns in practice.
3. Set measurable targets: We also identified the measures of success that we would use to review our job share at the end of the trial period. Many of them were the absence of the risks and fears of what could go wrong, occurring, because if they had not arisen, then there had been no negative impact as a result of our job share arrangement, as opposed to previously being full time. These would make it clear and objective to demonstrate how we had effectively supported internal clients, delivered projects, managed our workload, etc., and hard to say arbitrarily ’it’s not working’.
Key questions and points to address in your proposal and plan for success in a flexible working arrangement:
- What are the benefits of the arrangement – for you, and for the business. What can you bring to the role as a result of the flexible working arrangement?
- What are the risks/concerns – and how will you manage each one. List everything you know they will think of, and how you will overcome it.
- How will you know it is successful and how will you measure it?
- Be clear on the focus on outcomes and output of your work – not just hours of work, time of day or location.
- If you will be part time, outline how your workload will be reduced/adjusted to equate to the size of your role and working time. Doing a full time job/workload in part time hours, is not a flexible work arrangement, nor is it realistic or sustainable.
- Is there anyone you can ask for their advice, experience or feedback if they have worked flexibly in your role/team before?
- If carer’s responsibilities are part of your reason for requesting flexibility, be proactive in detailing your childcare arrangements (bearing in mind that work from home is not a substitute for child care). For example, if you are proposing to work from home, confirm that you will not also be caring for children at the same time. If you are proposing to start/finish early, explain that your partner will do the morning drop off to enable you to start early, and you would like to finish early to arrive at pick up on time, etc. Be open with the reason for your request and how it will work.
- Consider a trial period and agree to the understanding to cease it, if it is clear (based on the agreed measures of success) that it is simply not working. This can be a significant tool to allay fears of ‘what if it doesn’t work’ and managers can often be pleasantly surprised in practice when they realise that it has been working effectively.
Shifting the dial on flexibility can be a slow process but encouraging the mindset to find ways in which it can work, puts the future of work in our hands.
Allie has created a Flexible Working Success Plan exclusively for FlexCareers community members and readers, that you can download FREE here.
If you are looking for flexible work or are interested to know more about flexible work arrangements and how careers are changing then join FlexCareers today: www.flexcareers.com.au
Allie Berridge is an experienced senior HR business partner, with over 12 years in Financial Services.
Allie has partnered with Executives and Leadership Teams throughout the insurance value chain and across lines of business, and enjoys the true breadth of the generalist role – from People Strategy and Executive Coaching to project and change management. Allie is particularly passionate about flexibility since seeking this in recent years with two young children, and believes strongly in the value that flexible employees can bring to the workplace.