The Flexible Workplace: Bend, Don’t Break

Think about your best employees… No, I mean really stop and consider them. I’ll give you a few seconds…

Now think about the people who used to be your best employees.  The ones you wished still worked for you.

Did they leave for reasons ‘outside your control’?  Did Jasmine head off to have a baby?  Rob finally got offered his dream job?  You just couldn’t match the pay someone else offered Brad?  Well the bad news is that those reasons are more within the realm of your control than you might think. Let’s start with the most obvious, the pitter patter of tiny feet.

I Can’t Stop Someone Having Kids!

At Messages On Hold, we do things differently.  Our GM Kirrily, who also happens to be a mother of two, makes a point of giving employees with families options. Why? Well because, as she says, that’s life.

“I’m all about the flexible workplace,” she says.

“I think if you want to keep good people working for you, then you need to make work part of their lifestyle.

“You need to acknowledge people have pressures from outside of work.”

In our crop of ‘parents who also happen to be employees’, the age of their kids ranges from teenagers right through to babies so you can imagine the external pressures these staff members are facing – assemblies, school runs, locked out babysitters!

And while lots of people would love living their lives solely with their kids, Kirrily says it’s important to offer mums and dads an environment where they actually enjoy being a parent and having a career.

“We offer the same arrangement to men and women,” she says.

“We focus on taking away the stress of having to be in two places at once.

“Staff members have set hours they have to be in the office but they actually get paid from when they arrive.  If they work longer they get paid more, if they work less they get paid less.

“The fear is often that they won’t be able to do their job but we have found the reverse, they are much more time-efficient and are easily able to perform well.”

You’re probably thinking ‘yeah that all sounds great but if someone has to take time off to go see their kids, they can just make it up later’. Well as Kirrily points out, it’s not always that easy.

“I used to have parents needing to take time off for a school assembly or sports day but then stressing that they couldn’t because they would be unable to make up the time later,” she says.

“Our philosophy is to take that stress away because when you have kids you can’t make up the time, but you will work harder when you are here and you will still get the job done.

“We trust our staff that if we take their stress away they will reward us with loyalty and strong performance rather than abusing the system”

Surely Fewer Hours means Less Work?

Two kids under five sounds like a lot of work right? Well if you ask Messages On Hold’s Finance Analyst David Johnson he’d probably agree.  Being the doting dad he is though, David has taken advantage of his flexible workplace and says the situation suits his family perfectly.

“Since having kids, the desire to work four days a week became more prevalent and Messages On Hold have been happy to trial different working hours for me,” he says.

“They offered me the option of deciding my hours, while still covering my workload, or to ‘buy’ annual leave.

“I ended up buying annual leave which meant instead of future pay rises I’d get the equivalent days in annual leave and slowly build up to my four day week dream.”

David says having an environment where he and he wife both work four days has meant his lifestyle has become one significantly less burdened with everyday stresses.

“I ended up choosing to have Fridays off and I find that having that extra day to play with the kids and do the housework, the grocery shopping et cetera has made the weekends less stressful.

“As an employee you still get your work done and I actually think knowing you only have four days, you actually work more effectively because you know you have to work to a tighter deadline.

“My wife works a four day week and loves the fact that she has me there to help out, get things done quicker and then enjoy the rest of the day.”

But Not All My Employees Want to Have Kids!

The great thing about the flexible workplace is it’s not just for staff members who want kids. Kirrily says these perks must be offered everyone in your office who is worth holding on to.

“I think it’s everyone’s choice if they have kids or not,” she says.

“Our flexible working arrangements are also offered to senior members of staff without kids because I don’t see why you have to have kids to get that particular reward.

“If we have someone who’s worked here long enough, knows the business well enough and can be trusted, I think they should be able to come and go as they please because they’ve proven they’ll be here when they need to be.”

The Flexible Workplace Sounds Difficult To Implement

Now, pause for a second, and think about your best staff members again.

You trust them – so it’s worth trusting them with a flexible workplace. It might sound like a lot of work – working with individual employees to ensure their work/life balance is satisfying, and it is.

But its work you shouldn’t put in the too hard basket. What’s the point of putting all the effort into attracting valuable employees and then creating an environment where they can identify better options for themselves?  It’s not about locking them in. It’s about putting yourself in the enviable position of having your best employees thinking of you as the best employer possible.

The type of employer they’d be downright crazy to leave, kids or no kids. It might take work. But it’s worth it.

In Part Two of our series, we’re taking a look at why start and finish times should be a matter of choice, not a matter of obligation.

– Sophie