For organisations moving towards making jobs flexible by default, communicating the new idea is as important as the policy itself.
Storytelling is a key part of ensuring staff know working flexibly is not just tolerated but encouraged.
Some staff will see the idea of ‘flexibility’ as a newfangled trend, so sometimes it’s a matter of helping people realise they already do work flexibly, said Ainslie van Onselen, Westpac’s director of women’s markets, inclusion and diversity, at last week’s launch of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2016 scorecard.
Westpac has recently moved to every role being flexible by default, or being able to be done flexibly.“We ran a little competition … there were photos of people doing renos, walking their dogs, the stories that came out were fantastic.”
Van Onselen recently had a dyed in the wool senior banker come to her to ask “oh what’s all this flex about Ainslie? What do you mean?”, she told the CEDA-hosted event.
Her response was, “well tell me what you do — do you leave early to go to the farm on the weekend? Or do you coach your kids’ soccer? What do you do?”
“It turned out he does leave early on a Wednesday and coaches his girls’ soccer team. I said ‘well that’s a great example of where you’re working flexibly’.
“It doesn’t have to be a programmatic part time. We’ve got to kind of stretch our imaginations as to what working flexibly is,” she explained.
The next step is showcasing those examples.
“He did that on Yammer, which we use as our sort of Facebook internally, and it went viral. He’s actually our number one Yammer poster. I don’t even think he’d been on Yammer before that. That just tells you the power of it not just coming from the inclusion and diversity world, it has to come from the senior leaders.”
It’s also useful to create simple manuals on how to implement flextime across different areas.
“We gave one pagers for how you can work flexibly within a branch, how you can work flexibly as a financial planner, or on a trading desk. We gave toolkits for our managers and toolkits also for our employees we’ve made available on our intranet et cetera and through Yammer. We’ve done senior leadership comms plans, where we’ve had our very most senior leaders of a company of about 40,000 people talking about how they role model flexibility,” van Onselen said.
Get men on board
Storytelling about flexibility has also played an important part in normalising the idea at Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, departmental secretary Adam Fennessy told the same event.
There are a range of elements essential to getting buy-in and successful implementation: tools to assist staff to adapt, data to show where the problems are, policies and storytelling, he explained.
But it’s not always easy — even changing the policy required pressure to help overcome bureaucratic inertia.
“The interesting thing there was that when I decided that [flexibility] would be a good thing, I had to have an argument with our HR area, who said it’ll take a long time, we’ll need six months to plan it, and it’ll possibly breach a whole lot of industrial laws — and I said, how about we announce it next week and then we’ll work through all the changes?
“We have a great HR department and there’s a lot of willingness to do things differently. The fear and inertia you’ll find in any big organisation,” he explained.
— Kate Jenkins (@Kate_Jenkins_) November 24, 2016
Tackling the perception that it’s solely an issue for women, or just for parents, has been another challenge, Fennessy told the audience.
“We very quickly moved to flexibility for all of our staff, for wherever you’re at in your life. And in particular behind the scenes targeting some men at different points of their career to have a go. Storytelling became very important, because if it became something for both women and men — ie all of our organisation — there was another assumption that it was for people in the parenting phase of their life, and people were saying ‘well what if I’m not in that space?’ he said.
Again, Yammer was a useful tool for demonstrating the breadth of possible uses for flextime.
“We ran a little #HowWeFlex competition. We just asked staff, if this was going to work for you, or if you are going flex, what do you do? How does it help? And there were photos of people doing renos, walking their dogs, the stories that came out were fantastic.”
Older men posted photos of themselves looking after their grandkids. One employee, who is an international athlete, even used their flexibility to compete on the European circuit.
The secretary even got into it.
“I have to work flexibly because I’ll be all over the state. … So I was taking selfies of the school drop-off just to say, if I’m saying you should do it, this is how I do it,” Fennessy stated.
DELWP has also invested in resources to help managers and their employees do flex properly.
“We’ve put in place now support not just for staff to ask, to have the courage to ask for flexibility, but for managers, in some cases who are kind of frozen with fear, saying am I going to lose my whole team? No, here’s how you can do it, here’s how you can probably increase the productivity of your team,” he said.
“Not surprisingly we’re finding much higher levels of staff engagement, staff feel trusted, and it’s also helped us push our digital reliance because if staff have good technology they can work from all sorts of locations.”