Flexible Job Design – Tips For Employers

Hands typing on a laptop at home


Redesigning a job to accommodate flexible working is a vital skill and one which not enough employers take on board.

Surveys show many people who have reduced their hours have not seen their responsibilities lessen.

A recent study called on professionals who want to work part time to redesign their jobs to reduce outputs in addition to renegotiating their hours. It said employers often do not reduce workload when professionals transition to part time work, leading to increased work intensity and insufficient time for development, networking or career-building. This can lead to burnout, demotivation and may result in the employee leaving.

It is all too easy to say no to a flexible working request – the legislation is weak, after all – but employers who do so risk losing skilled and experienced workers. By the same token it is also all too easy to say yes and leave it to the employee to make it work. Instead, employers could take a flexible working request as an opportunity to reconsider how a particular role works and might evolve, as something dynamic rather than static. After all, all work these days is subject to almost continuous change.

So how do you design or redesign a job to make it more flexible?

The first thing to remember is that no two jobs are the same so each will need to be assessed on its own individual merits. It will involve interrogating what the main functions of the role are and what the skills of the person holding it are. If hours are being reduced, for instance, would it make more sense to hone in on the aspects of the role at which the role holder excels and to delegate other responsibilities? This could also allow more junior workers to step up so long as it doesn’t simply overburden them.

It will also involve understanding the needs of specific teams and how the team works together. This is an extension of the part in the flexible working application process where you are asked to consider the impact on your colleagues of your request. It is important that that is as collaborative a process as possible to avoid feelings of resentment.

Andy Lake’s book Smart Flexibility outlines what he calls the CAN test for flexible working. It’s all about asking questions and analysing how the organisation and the people in it work:

  • Why are we doing this? [what are the aims of the organisation/team/individual and are these best achieved by a culture of presenteeism]
  • Why are are we doing this here? [could this job or elements of it be done elsewhere, eg, remotely]
  • Why are we doing this in this way? [eg face to face meetings rather than remote ones]
  • Why are we doing this now? [could a job be done in different hours, could that work in the organisation’s favour, eg, could later finishes mean easier access to overseas colleagues/markets]

His book outlines how to build a flexible culture which enables different ways of working. Organisations which have already done the hard work, asked themselves these questions and created a more flexible culture will find it easier to adjust to individual requests.


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