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Leadership consultant Jane Sparrow gives some advice on promoting and asking for flexible working and says good managers will see it as the making of their business.
A recent Workingmums.co.uk survey that showed 89% of women would be prepared to leave their current employer for a more flexible role won’t have come as a surprise to the majority of working parents.
Flexibility continues to grab headlines, such as Yahoo’s clamp down on homeworking – because it’s an issue that touches so many of us.
Flexibility deserves more than a lip-serviced, begrudging acknowledgment by employers who still see the proposition of flexibility as a one-sided street: something they have to give, in return for less time and presence in the office.
Many parents, usually mums, would love to work (and love their jobs), but the reality is sometimes we just need some extra support to do it.
The irony is that flexibility has the power to unlock a level of performance that goes further than working hard and doing a good job.
I have worked with many managers in high-performing companies who actively encourage and use flexibility as a way to entice deeper levels of engagement – and hence performance – from others.
Far from being a one-way street, flexibility is seen as something more akin to a high-speed motorway. Not only are employees working hard, but their work takes on a more significant and purposeful role in their lives and their performance is motivated by much more than their monthly pay cheque.
That isn’t to say that these managers can wave a flexibility wand when we have those dreadful days when the child-minder calls in sick, or we stagger out of bed in the morning after tending to a teething baby all night.
But an engaging manager – one who notices how we are feeling and what is going on in our lives – is going to be much more willing to reward us with an hour off to see our daughter’s school play as opposed to taking us out with the team for celebratory drinks after a big customer win.
It’s about rewarding people in ways that mean the most to them, and are most likely to keep the engagement high.
It’s not easy getting the balance right between work and home, but here are some suggestions to help you have positive conversations that focus on win-win situation for everyone involved:
Talk to your manager about how the flexibility you need will benefit the business, and not just play to your advantage.
For example, an employee I managed asked if she could change her working hours in order to lift-share with another colleague and avoid a lengthy, expensive commute by train.
She pointed out her early start would enable her to support her European customers better, by adopting the same working hours. It was a great outcome for me, for her – and our customers.
If you envisage a problem that might require some extra support and flexibility, involve your manager as soon as you can. Planning a solution together will always be preferable to a last – minute panic that causes you – and your team – extra stress and distraction.
What I find sad about the Workingmums.co.uk survey is just how many people would be prepared to leave their current employer in their quest for more flexibility.
Instead of watching talent walk out the door, organisations need to be encouraging their managers to have bold conversations about how they can use flexibility as a way to bring about the very best performance in their people.
If you are an employee, why not have that bold conversation with your manager and talk about how you think you could be at your best? And if you are a manager, make it your mission to really reflect on the options you can offer: even the smallest gestures can have a huge impact on how people feel about their work.