Some of the results of flexible working are difficult to measure, but by listening to employees talking about what might have happened if they didn’t have it you can begin to understand the difference it makes.
I was speaking to some women last week whose employer had recently introduced more flexible contracts, normalising working from home part or all of the week. They explained what the impact had been on them. They were both able to remain in their jobs, and in one case progress, since taking maternity leave and they both worked four days a week, giving them time to spend with their children without it feeling too squeezed.
Of course, it was not all plain sailing. They had to guard against working too many hours when they worked from home, for instance, but this was something their employer recognised.The main thing that struck me was the fact that, although you can look at reduced absence and retention levels, you cannot really measure the full impact of such policies because in many instances you are measuring what ifs, things that didn’t happen which might have done in other circumstances.
In both cases I asked what the women thought would have happened if they had not had these new contracts. Both said they would have had to reduce their hours and possibly leave their job and seek a local job on lower pay with less career progression. We’ve seen the consequences of such moves in countless of our annual surveys – the feelings of being stuck, the frustration at not being able to fulfil your potential. How do you fully capture that waste? It is both intensely personal and professionally damaging – to the individual and their family, but also to the organisation they work for and to wider society.
It is only by listening to the voices of people whose employers have fully addressed this waste that you understand the tangible and intangible aspects of that impact. So when a new manager comes in and takes away flexible working or a company imposes a blanket ban on homeworking because they think it makes things easier, they need to think a little more broadly about the wider impact of that change. Even small adjustments, such as moving meetings by 10 minutes to accommodate school drop-offs, can make all the difference to employees’ stress levels, their overall happiness and therefore their productivity. All it requires is listening to the people you work with, understanding the different pressures they are under and a tiny dose of empathy.