In some organisations, employees who work flexibly can experience a lack of skills development, or pay and career progression, while workplace cultures and practices can at times leave flexible or part-time employees in isolation.
This seems to be a negative outcome of the discord between HR policies and the realities of workplace practices in many organisations. Much of the debate focuses on poorly implemented or unrealistic flexible working policies, the impact of the right to request flexible working and low take-up rates of some forms of flexible working, such as job sharing.
All of this points to the need for employers to move away from ‘inflexible’ flexible working policies and create cultures where ‘flexism’ ceases to exist.
Integrating flexible working well is clearly not an easy feat, and the gap between HR policies and practical impact is evidence of this. So, what steps can organisations take to improve this situation?
An organisational culture that embraces flexibility starts by signalling at recruitment that applications on a flexible basis are welcomed. Where such applications are not welcome, there should be solid business reasons for this decision.
Considering what type of flexibility would be most applicable to employees at specific organisations is important. HR and senior leaders should consult with staff on this, exploring how flexibility would work in practice and how it might affect members of the team with different working patterns. There is clearly a need to balance flexibility with business needs.
As with many HR policies, effective implementation is often where the distinction between rhetoric and reality lies. Flexible working needs to be available to all staff, regardless of age or gender.
Technology plays an important role in enabling employees to work flexibly and remotely; however, attention needs to be paid to how flexible working will function in reality, both in terms of ensuring the IT infrastructure is there and in ensuring that the boundaries between work and life are retained.
When made available, there needs to be support from the top. Organisations should encourage senior managers to work flexibly. Research by Acas, titled Flexibility in the workplace: implications of flexible work arrangements for individuals, teams and organisations, published in March 2017, suggests that this will make leaders more likely to support flexible working in their own teams. Related to staff management, line managers may need training to ensure they have the skills to manage flexible teams and their performance.
Rosie Gloster is senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies