How to have a conversation about flexible working today

Today’s the first ever Flexible Working Day 2017. We spoke to the people involved about why they’re onboard and what their goals are for the event today – and into the future.

Since GM Holden moved to full-company flexible working over the past five years, things have looked a bit different around the office.

“You see kids in the office; you see dogs in the office,” says Ashley Winnett, executive director – people, performance and culture, GM Holden.

Here’s an example.

Earlier this week when a morning of senior meetings coincided with a curriculum day that necessitated his young daughter not being at school, Willett faced the balancing act countless parents, carers and workers are familiar with.

“I had three choices; I could work from home, I could take my daughter to school care, or I could bring her to work. I chose to bring her to work. She came along to the meetings and she was bored, but that’s ok. And that situation is not unusual here.”

It starts at the top

Willett says senior employees taking the lead is essential for ensuring flexible practices are the norm and not the exception. “We’re full flexible here, from the managing director down.”

Managing director Mark Bernhard works alternating weeks, with one week a typical MD schedule, and the next coming into the office at 10am after dropping his kids at school, along with other parenting duties..

“What that sends is a message to the entire organisation: if he can do it, you can do it,” says Winnett.

“When people see leaders engaged in flexible work practices, they think ‘that’s what success looks like’ and they want to model it.”

The first ever Flexible Working Day

Australia’s inaugural Flexible Working Day kicks off today, with organisations and ambassadors punctuating their social media with the hashtags #FWDay2017 #FlexWorkFullLife and #TackleFlexism – and hosting events within their own organisations to celebrate their achievements in flexible working arrangements.

More than a dozen senior leaders from corporate, government and non-profits have pledged their support by signing up as official ambassadors, including Winnett, Gemma Saunders, head of OD, diversity, inclusion & employee experience at Medibank, Lisa Annese CEO of the Diversity Council of Australia, and Tracey Spicer, author, journalist and television presenter – along with advocacy and media organisations such as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and Women’s Agenda.

The goal of the event, says its founder Vanessa Vanderhoek, is to support a discussion between employees and employers about flexible working practices at their organisation. “Whether your flexibility policy is very green or more mature, we want people to start a conversation today that helps move things forward.” So, if there’s room to take a plan to senior leaders, now’s the time, she says. And if your organisation is not at that point, talk to your employees about what they want when it comes to flexible work.

What are the current barriers to flex work?

The voices joining the conversation about flexibility has risen to a crescendo in recent years; it was a core message at the World Business Forum in Sydney recently, and there’s no shortage of stories about the impact flexibility can have on a workplace.

However, one persistent issue continues to cause anxiety: the fear that flexible working will create bias among managers. A recent Hays study found that 94 per cent of Australians would prefer to work flexibly but only if it didn’t disadvantage their career. The Hays poll of 3,248 skilled professionals showed this was the primary concern around taking up flexibility.

Again, it all comes down to the behaviour of your senior leaders, says Winnett and it has to be genuine.  “You hear a lot about people who say: ‘Yes, I’m committed to it,’ but then they’re the first one in and the last to leave. It’s about us finding what works, whether that is  remote working, flexible hours for parenting, or job shares.”

For Winnett, it’s a set of values he’s willing to stand up for. “I really do love this business, but I love my family more.”

How to start a conversation

Vanderhoek wants leaders and organisations to put initiatives in place that they can evaluate at next year’s Flexible Working Day. For her, it’s already a success, in that she’s got so many leaders onboard who are “willing to walk the talk.”

“We’ve been talking about it for such a long time, but now it’s time to get on with it.”

Ashley Winnett’s talking points for Flexible Working Day 2017

  • Don’t let the bureaucrats take over. “We didn’t start our process with a policy, but with a mindset” This allows for managers and employees to develop work practices that don’t conform to one single expectation of how flexible work should look.
  • Ask: “how can we create a safe environment for senior leaders to start modelling flexible working practices?”
  • Believe in the 99 per cent….to do the right thing when it comes to flexibility. “It’s the 99 per cent who are going to leave if you don’t do the right thing when it comes to flexibility.”
  • Visit and arm yourself with toolkits and other resources. And read the survey about how flexible Australian workplaces are and the impacts of flexible workplaces.

View the original article here.

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