Flexible working – the ultimate in retention tools

Published: 22 August 2014

From 30 June 2014, new Flexible Working Regulations came in to force. Forming part of the Children and Families Bill 2014, these give all employees the right to ask for flexible working, and this is no longer limited to employees with parental responsibility for young children or carers. It's worth mentioning that there is no obligation on the employer to say "yes" but they must consider and respond in a "reasonable manner."

There are differing views on this topic from the well publicised removal of home-working by Yahoo! to a new study by Christin Munsch that found men are viewed more favourably than women when seeking a work/life balance. I've found that people who have worked for an organisation for some time, proven their value and deliver, often have an informal, non-contractual arrangement ranging from a half day on a Wednesday to pick up the children, to leaving at 4:30pm every Thursday to play semi-professional cricket!

The reason I mention this is that these working arrangements are the single biggest obstacle when someone like me is trying to move a person out of one company and in to another. In my line of work I identify and approach people who are not looking for a new job. During the "approach call" many different types of conversation take place; some are listeners, some are questioners, some are in the middle of a meeting yet answered their mobile (which I always meet with disbelief!) and some are in the middle of the office and require a call back later. However, the conversation always gets to the discovery of whether this person could be interested or not. 

If the role is a good career move people will walk away from good companies, they will walk away from good Managers (ones who they enjoy working for and respect greatly, even seeing them as friends), they will walk away from big bonuses and sometimes move for a slightly lower salary, but they will not walk away from their flexible working arrangement!

Despite what's written, I think that flexible working arrangements have improved significantly over the last five years. I speak to more and more people who have created a great work/life balance, are delivering exceptional results, and frankly, have the Blackberry on them most times and work in to the evenings too - if set-up well with the technology. And this is a real pain for us because for these people, it's the most powerful retention tool in the world! The arrangements have often evolved over time, people adapt around each other and make it work really effectively and it can be difficult to immediately replicate in another organisation - or a new employer might be unwilling to be flexible, at least not immediately.

Employers could view the new "right to ask" as a pain. Indeed some of the requests could be unreasonable and will be rejected with good reason. However responding in the "reasonable manner" as outlined in the act, with some genuine thought behind whether it could work or not, is a wise move. If significant investment has been made in leadership development, compensation and engagement but this is ignored, businesses could really be missing a trick. Very few people have told me they will not consider moving because their company has brilliant leadership or even because they are very well paid (the competition will be competitive) but because they have created an environment and working pattern that ensures they are delivering in every setting, both in and out of the workplace.

Tim Baker is a Consultant in the HR Practice at Berwick Partners

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