Trust works both ways in the new world of work

Managers needs to be trained so they can trust themselves to manage flexible workers, a meeting on flexible working heard yesterday.

The Embracing Flexibility meeting was the first held by The New Work, an organisation set up to interrogate the barriers to normalising flexible working.

Line managers were crucial, the meeting heard. In a session on trust, Dee Gosney, Head of Content Planning at HSBC, spoke about how she had spoken to her line manager about her feelings of being torn between the demands of her global role and parenthood. She was worried that her role could not be done part time and that she would be resented if she reduced her hours. Her manager told her that she should trust her to make it work.

Gosney said that she had always thought that flexible working was about managers trusting workers until then. She realised that the trust worked both ways and also that where managers were not prepared to discuss flexible working it was often due to a lack of trust in themselves and their ability to manage different ways of working. She added that surveys by HSBC showed a significant increase in trust between managers and employees when flexible working was granted.

Gosney also spoke about how she and her job share partner “accidentally” created the company’s Flexible Network when they were looking for other job share partnerships. At the time, job shares were not very visible in the organisation and HR did not have data on them. Gosney and her colleague put out a call for an exchange – a meeting hosted by managers but where employees choose the topic. They got over 600 responses and they had only advertised in the UK.

The network, which Gosney chairs, now has over 1,000 members and senior sponsorship. It is also consulted by HR on issues related to flexible working and has providing information on some of the challenges. They include a lack of understanding over what flexible working means with many associating it only with homeworking, negative stigma around flexible working and pressure to justify flexible working requests, and a lack of trust from line managers. Gosney said it was vital that there was open and honest discussion around the challenges flexible working represented for managers, such as concerns that establishing team bonds was harder with remote workers and that visible team members might be asked to do more simply because they were around.

The network’s goals this year include raising the profile of flexible success stories, particularly in customer facing and senior roles; increasing support for managers through, for instance, mentoring and regional job pairing events; and promoting internal flexible working champions. HSBC as a whole was working on flexible career progression, added Gosney.

The New Work event included a panel discussion. One speaker was Benedict Dellot, Associate Director, Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing at the RSA, who outlined the Taylor review recommendations on flexible working – the need for it to be mutually beneficial, for zero hours workers to be paid a premium and for self employed people to get more rights in return for higher taxes. He highlighted three areas where he said flexible working was “falling short”: low income workers, confidence and awareness around employment rights and SMEs.

Break-out sessions included one on making the business case, another led by Digital Mums and one led by The Mix, a company that works a four-day week.

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