Flexible working needs to be a core part of workforce planning

Job re-design needs to be a central part of workforce planning in preparation for the disruption and social challenges employers and employees will face in the future.

keyboard with 'flexible' working


This week we held a roundtable on senior flexible roles. The subject of job redesign came up and a question was asked about whether the advent of increased automation and general disruption in the workplace which will affect most workers presents an opportunity to re-look at job specs.  I spoke to someone recently, for instance, who said they had reduced their hours and in collaboration with their manager siphoned off part of their role to automation.

Too many people, however, still end up reducing their paid hours, but not the amount of work they have to do in them. It is left to them to make it all work somehow, which often means they end up doing a full-time role, but only being paid for part-time hours. It’s hardly fair and it leads to a lot of resentment and exhaustion because the reason they reduced their hours was to have more time to do other stuff.

The redesign issue is not very high on most employers’ agenda. This is no doubt due to resources and structural issues about where responsibility might lie for this. To challenge how roles have been done traditionally requires someone to spend time talking to a hiring or line manager and going through the job spec. It requires being able to think strategically about future requirements in a fast-changing landscape.

Flexible working legislation

The Government is likely to introduce legislation at some point soon making jobs flexible by default from day one. This is all good news, but legislation alone is not enough. We’ve seen that with the current flexible working legislation. It’s weak; there are way too many get-out clauses and vagueness in the language which allow requests to be turned down. I hope that any new legislation will not just take out the 26-week requirement before you can apply for flexible working that is in the current law and say it is a day one right.

While there is a symbolic value in doing so – setting what is expected – it is not going to change much with regard to employers who, for whatever reason, are not on board with the kind of changes flexible working requires if it is to address all the issues people face in their working lives and do so in a way that is least disruptive for employers.

Linked-up thinking

Flexible working is not an ad hoc, individualised thing. It needs to enable employers to get the best out of their workforce by taking some of the logistical pressures off employees. In a world of social care and benefits cuts, expensive childcare, lack of support for elder care, an ageing workforce,  straitened family finances and skills shortages galore it requires a bit more than telling employers to get it together, blaming line managers who have a lot on their plate and publishing a few individual case studies showing how employees benefit, however powerfully these might make the personal and business case.

It requires linked-up thinking – tying together infrastructural issues such as social care, childcare, etc; a focus on strategic management training and support to develop expertise in this area; and putting flexible working at the centre of workforce planning.

You would think it was smaller companies that would struggle with this, and I am sure many do, since they have fewer resources, but I’ve spoken to several younger SMEs who have honed this strategic way of thinking because it is how they have built their businesses up, hiring flexible workers who can grow their hours as their children get older, for instance. Many describe it as being like putting a jigsaw together where all the pieces are constantly moving. Their expertise should be valued and shared. Doing the jigsaw is not easy, but traditional ways of thinking about workforce planning are not up to the job of how we will need to work in the future.

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