Is your organisation a truly flexible employer?

Work-life balance is something candidates strongly and consistently desire but when they ask for flexibility, are you opening the right doors?

Being flexible doesn’t just mean offering variable working hours, and it isn’t just something female candidates are looking for. Men value work-life balance as much as women.

SEEK’s Laws of Attraction, a robust survey of almost 6000 people found the desire for work-life balance is more important now than it was five years ago. It is ranked as a top three driver in every industry.

The findings enable recruiters to reach their target talent by understanding the key attraction data for candidates across a range of criteria including industry, gender, level of seniority and demographic.

SEEK’s research manager for the Laws of Attraction survey, Caroline North, says the data reveals there is no magic formula to work-life balance because individual needs are so different.

It is for this reason, says North, that fixed policies on work-life balance can be far less effective than taking a flexible approach within your organisational structures.

In a climate where the candidate holds power, she says, it is more important than ever to ensure it is you, and not your competitor, that is attracting the best talent.

“There’s no golden rule but we’re hopeful that Laws of Attraction data can help organisations understand the factors that may help them stand out from the crowd,” says North

“Flexibility is one of the most creative tools a company has to differentiate themselves.

“They are creative with products and services they provide but they need to be creative with how they operate because work-life balance isn’t a one-size fits all model.”

Trust your judgement

Australian innovation consultancy firm Inventium is one of those leading the charge when it comes to finding new ways to show its employees how much they are valued.

It offers its employees unlimited paid annual leave.

You may gasp at the concept, but CEO and founder Dr Amantha Imber believes morale is as high as it has ever been.

She trusts her hiring judgment, and she trusts her employees – and in return they don’t abuse the offer.

It was brought in to address the inequity Imber saw in an industry where most people worked far in excess of the standard 38 hour week yet only got the standard 20 day annual leave.

Called Re-Balance leave, it allows staff to take some time off to recoup after an intensive period or when they are not feeling at their most creative.

Annual leave is up 25 per cent in the 12 months since it was introduced and it’s an outcome Imber is happy with.

“I treat them as adults and I show them I trust them,” she says.

“It’s hard to find good people and I want them to love their job, and love this company but also to remain healthy and not burn out because they can’t retain the pace.”

How much is too flexible?

Sometimes though, in the bid to give employees better value for their pay packet, the pendulum can swing too far and downsides need to be considered.

When Tony Lehner, Senior Director of Human Resources for Unisys Asia Pacific, joined the information technology company 10 years ago, the policy for working flexibly was extreme and a large number of people worked 100 per cent of the time from home.

However an engagement survey in 2013 found a sense of community and teamwork was lacking so it moved to a blended model and found the equilibrium it needed.

Staff now work a minimum of three days a week in the office during core hours of 10am and 3pm but hours outside those times remain flexible. It enables them to miss the peak hour traffic while enhancing opportunities for collaboration. The change increased engagement by 17 points.

Lehner says one-in-three Unisys employees have a one-way commute of more than an hour and a recent poll found 62 per cent believed skipping the rush hour traffic was the advantage they valued most.

He says creating a culture accepting of individual needs is crucial to a successful flexible workplace model.

“You need to respect that people are different,” says Lehner.

“They have to get the job done but I don’t want to tell them how to live their flexibility because they are not the same as me.”

He says a successful flexible work policy that supports your business can be achieved by the following:

5 tips for success

  1. Ask your employees: Find out what frustrates them or what they value and use that as a starting point. Make them part of the solution and continue this communication to address needs or issues as they change.
  2. Trust your colleagues: Respect that others may choose to work different hours to you; shut down negative chatter immediately.
  3. Manage teams and individuals by outcomes: Focus on the bigger picture rather than by how many hours you see them at their desk
  4. Managers set and lead the team culture: Demonstrate what behavior is and isn’t acceptable.
  5. Encourage productivity, not long hours: Let individuals be self-disciplined. They shouldn’t work long hours for the sake of it and be sure to encourage them to take down-time – and to let their colleagues have down time.

Lehner says Unisys is able to offer such flexibility in hours because of the nature of the job, and its Asia Pacific geographic.

Finding your niche in a competitive candidate market is a valuable commodity.

“We’re competing for talent and have to be able to demonstrate what is our differentiator,” says Lehner.

“I have definitely found this is a differentiator for us.

“It works in attraction, and it also works in retention.”

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