Almost three quarters of CIPD members are female. So it’s highly likely many of them will juggle work and childcare at some point in their career. It’s also highly likely they will need access to some form of flexible working in order to manage the juggle. Indeed, research has shown that flexible working is a proven strategy for supporting women’s careers – so it makes good business sense for HR departments to embrace it.
Offering flexible working not only helps an employer attract and retain valuable skills, but also opens up new possibilities for when and where work is carried out. Ones that are likely to better meet the needs of working carers. As a consequence – and as research confirms – employees working flexibly tend to be more loyal and more engaged.
For example, Elizabeth Divver – Group HR Director at the Big Issue – has discovered that: “when you work flexibly with your staff, it engenders great loyalty. I don’t just mean approving flexible working requests, but creating an environment where people are responsible for getting their work done rather than being present.”
Embracing flexible working combined with creative thinking can have enormous business benefits. For example, rather than filling a junior full-time role Elizabeth chose to use the salary budget to offer a more senior part-time role. As she explains: “I took the Administrator’s full time salary and advertised for a 21hr per week L&D Manager. Since that equated to a significantly higher FTE salary I expected to get applicants who already had experience.”
Elizabeth is clear on the benefits of her strategy: “I had applications from people who would never have applied for a full time position at the FTE.”
And delighted at what she considers a win-win outcome:
“Because of the nature of the work she is doing I have been able to give my L&D Manager full flexibility on when and where she works her hours. The Big Issue has got a very experienced and talented woman to help us achieve our people management objectives and I have a fantastic ambassador for my team.”
In the context of the current debate about getting more women into the boardroom and creating gender balanced organisations, embracing flexible working provides further benefits for HR. The function is seen as a role model, leading the way. And redesigning jobs and working practices to enable flexibility helps HR understand the business challenges involved. The result is not only a more confident function that can both advise other parts of the business more effectively; but also, one that’s seen to be practicing what it preaches.
Anna Meller is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and one of the UK’s leading experts in re-balancing work. https://www.linkedin.com/in/annameller/