Flexibility is everyone’s responsibility

Policies are rightly being set by management to create more flexible working environments, but the real focus must now turn to the staff themselves to support it, argues DDB Melbourne managing director Kate Sterling.

I’m incredibly proud how businesses are adopting stronger policies around diversity and more flexible working environments but it’s adoption (and success) goes far beyond just setting a policy.

It has everything to do with fostering an open, respectful and supportive working environment to make this truly work. While policies are rightly being set by management, the real focus must now turn to the staff themselves in ensuring they understand the importance of supporting it.

Flexibility impacts all staff, jobs need to be shared, working styles and processes changed, but above all it requires everyone to muck in.

What’s the point of promising a return to work mum the chance to shorten her hours for school pick up when she’s logging back on until midnight? It totally defies the purpose. All staff (no-matter their personal situation) need to step up and appreciate the value and importance of flexibility even if they’re personally working full-time.

This is something we’ve experienced first-hand at DDB while in the process of re-assessing our policies to ensure they shape a more productive, inclusive workplace.

Too many times I’ve seen employees who shift to a flexible working arrangement, such as a four-day work week, expected to do the workload of a full-time employee. Dumping the same amount of work on someone and giving them less hours to do it isn’t the way to drive a healthy culture within any business.

Flexibility is key – but it can be difficult to achieve

Instead, roles must be redefined with daily tasks and expected output reassessed and reduced. It’s up to management to ensure the role better reflects the reduced working hours and to set new, more realistic KPIs of what success in the role should look like.

While it’s up to management to set the expectations for the role, the entire business plays a pivotal role to supporting the new working arrangement. This means all employees need to be educated on flexible working, it’s impact on them personally, as a team and to the business overall.

Management need to make it clear that it’s everyone’s role to make this transition work for the short or long-term. Open communication and better education will help employees shake off some of the guilt they feel when trying to duck out of the office unnoticed to make the 3pm school pickup.

Something else we’ve learnt through the development of our flexible working policies, is that it’s a relatively new journey for everyone; employers, new parents, the next generation who want to work the way that suits them. Regular check ins can help identify what is and isn’t working for people, iron out niggles and assist with a more seamless transition early on.

Check ins will also highlight the small wins and success stories within the organisation, which are important to share. We’ve been open about the areas we’re focused on improving and our shortcomings, but it’s important not to forget to celebrate progress.

Maintaining a truly flexible work place is never going to be easy or perfect – it requires full commitment from all staff and an open mind, but most of all acceptance that it’s a team effort not just up to the individual to make this work.

Kate Sterling is DDB Melbourne’s managing director.


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