UK organisations are facing some challenging times and ensuring you have the competitive edge is becoming a key focus. Flexible working is often referred to as a potential panacea but are we truly making the most of flexible working? 
The evidenced benefits of flexible working are often quoted and recent surveys confirm over 80% of people want the choice to work flexibly – it’s a top wish list item when changing jobs. Recent surveys identify that whilst over 80% of businesses have a flexible working policy, worryingly, around half of UK businesses actually enable flexible working and those that do, 90% don’t advertise they are flexible working friendly. 
True flexible working means a myriad of possible ways of working – anything which is “not the 5 days a week, 9 to 5” – and the prospect of managing so many variations can feel overwhelming for managers newer to the world of flexibility. Flexible working has also possibly been tainted by the legislative demands and perception of employee centricity, whilst the intent is positive, the need for formality reduces the ability for healthy conversations between employees and managers to find mutual solutions. Many organisations have developed “handcuff cultures” where policies designed to guide have created barriers and the fear, or precedent of request rejection often result in employees not even asking but voting with their feet. 
Many organisations have informal approaches to flexible working in place – these are hugely successful with a few guidelines, boundaries and positive management approaches. In these cultures, employees understand the business needs and ensure that they are flexible to meet those – in return, they have a degree of choice and control over their work patterns and location. These cultures are based on two way trust and management by outputs, not the time physically in a workplace. Managers are supported and skilled. The benefits of flexible working really shine through with higher levels of productivity, engagement, morale, wellbeing, connectedness, loyalty, revenue and lower stress & sickness absence. 
Employees feel privileged rather than entitled. They believe their productivity is higher when they feel valued and have choice over how and where they work. Those living a flexible life value this greatly and when I have asked people how much additional salary they would want to replace flexible working it’s at least £10-15k a year. 
The role modelling of leaders cannot be understated. Flex conversations start to peel back the layers of limiting beliefs, unconscious bias and general fears – change can be uncomfortable so it’s key to keep the change moving forward in a supportive way. 
John Amaechi highlighted the need to treat our workforce like human beings not things at the recent CIPD conference to stop the erosion of trust and maintain successful and productive organisations. It is recognised that we have a productivity problem in this country and enabling our people to deliver their best is key to greater productivity. 
Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, advised that “we need to shift the mindset, empower people and give them accountability”. How? Adopt a high challenge: high support cultural approach, create a trust and outputs based culture and be explicit, transparent and supportive. Be brave and start the conversations. 
The role of HR is critical in helping organisations to see the need to evolve. Those that stand still will be left behind. Lets’ pull together and take as many with us as we can! 
About The Author 
Liese Lord is the CEO and Founder of The Lightbulb Tree “Changing the Way of Work….for the better”  
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