Management of flexibility at work

Australia is far behind other countries when it comes to workplace flexibility. We must make it compelling for people to work for us and flexibility is a core underpinning, says Ann Sherry AO, CEO of Carnival Australia, a Division of Carnival Corporation, which employs 220, 000 people worldwide.

Traditional management practices no longer support employees lives and, with current skills shortages, the best employees will readily move to workplaces which meet their need for work life balance.

The problem then arises when people seek out ‘best practice’ employers only to find that, despite all the policies and promises at the commencement of the employment process, their particular manager demands ever longer hours with presence equaling performance. Gone are weekends with family and friends and the promises of having any control over how, when or where their work can be done. What is left is continued work/life conflict, stress and exhaustion, often leading to burnout or seeking yet another employer.

So what needs to be done in Australian workplaces? How can we bring about the human resources management practices that support workplace flexibility?

Sherry says that we need to clearly understand the problem, to look at the symbols of culture such as who in the top ten works flexibly and what happens if they do?

How to improve flexibility

Implementing the policies and systems is the easy part, it’s then that the real work on the organisational culture must occur. This is an ongoing change management process that starts with management at the top of the organisation. Here, and throughout the management ranks, sophisticated facilitated dialogue about the many complex issues surrounding flexibility is needed to effect change.

Over more than a decade working in this field we have developed a change management process that readily brings to light the attitudes, management practices and belief systems that undermine flexibility. Once the issues are clear, appropriate strategies for dealing with the real and often difficult to change problems, can be planned.

Strategies can include ongoing management coaching to develop the personal and organisational vision and goals for a flexible workplace, working on the attitudes and belief systems that support or undermine flexibility, and the practical aspects of the management of flexibility on a day-to-day basis.

An important step that can be taken by managers, particularly senior managers, is to give permission to use these practices in as many forums and formats as possible. Also managers need the skills and knowledge to be able to understand employees goals and work life balance needs and to educate their staff on the business imperatives for working flexibly.

To support managers in this, Flexibility At Work has developed e-learning programs, that give managers the practical tools to take employees through a step-by-step life planning process, to help them understand workplace flexibility and the business case for making it happen. These programs empower managers to take responsibility for the on-going dialogue and education needed for these practices to work. Management education and accountability are keys to the success of workplace flexibility.

See details and demo of the Creating & Managing Flexible Workpractices E-learning program here.