Mark Kitchen is Managing Director of Williams Bain, a global supplier of Executive Interim Managers and subject matter experts to PLCs, privately owned businesses and equity partnerships which is successfully blurring the lines between management consultancy and executive interim management. He is a passionate advocate of flexible working and shares his thoughts on how it can transform workplaces.
Why do you believe flexible working is so beneficial to productivity?
In 2017 a YouGov survey found that 89% of British businesses and employees believe flexible working has a positive impact on productivity. From my own experience at Williams Bain I can definitely say that employees who have more control over their own time show greater loyalty and dedication as a result. We have mums working for us who never have to miss a school production and thanks to the software as a service (SAAS) that we use, our staff can log on from anywhere. Technology has transformed the way workplaces operate and it simply isn’t necessary for everyone to be working from the same place all the time.
What are some if the pitfalls of flexible working?
This may not be the answer you’re expecting to hear but the biggest pitfall for employers is making sure they regard part-time and flexible workers with the same level of importance as full-time 9-5 staff. It is worryingly easy for bosses to overlook staff who are not in the office all the time when it comes to decision-making, promotion and seeking opinions.
I’d also say that failing to offer flexible working is a pitfall in itself because it risks alienating whole sectors of society – working parents and millennials to name just two – who have very valuable skills and perspectives to offer.
How can employers make it work in practice?
There are lots of different ways to approach flexible working. Larger organisations might want to adopt a more formal approach with flexible working contracts but smaller businesses can operate on a far more informal basis. It might be as simple as letting staff know that there is an unwritten rule where time off will always be granted for doctor’s appointments and attending children’s activities. It can even be arranged on an individual basis, with some staff starting later to accommodate the school run and others being given longer lunch breaks to attend the gym. The key thing for employers to consider is how they can support their employees in achieving a better work life balance.
Do you feel boards have a role to play in promoting flexible working?
Definitely. Having the flexibility to request time off for family commitments, medical care or even for leisure activities can have a positive impact on employee wellbeing and attitude. Staff can feel more valued and in return are likely to give that little bit more back. I know some employers are wary that staff might push the boundaries and take advantage but in reality this rarely happens. It’s all about trust and mutual respect.
Flexible working allows employers to be more inclusive and can make it easier for those suffering poor mental or physical health to continue working. All employers understand the value of keeping good people and flexible working can really help with that.