We know that future of work trends are for flexibility. But what does this actually mean at a human level? And how can companies use it to attract top talent?
We recently surveyed 300 people in the Beam network (and beyond) about the kinds of part-time and flexible arrangements they’re looking for at work.
While there were clear trends, we loved seeing that flexibility means MANY THINGS to many people. It makes sense really — at its core, flexible work is a recognition that everyone has different work needs and lives outside the office. As one respondent put it, people want to work for companies that “understand there’s more to life than work”.
For flexible work to, ahem, work, trust is vital. In many ways, the group of people we surveyed have shown themselves to be experienced professionals worthy of a more autonomous working style: 93% of respondents had at least 7 years’ experience in the workforce and 60% had 14+ years.
Here’s what people would love to see from companies in creating a part-time flexible working culture.
1. Build work around school hours (and holidays). Please.
Let’s face it. School and work are essentially incompatible. A 9 to 5 work day vs an 9 to 3 school day. Four weeks of leave a year vs 12 weeks of school holidays. Until now, individuals have just been papering over the gaps (or using every logistical muscle they have to muddle through). There’s a real appetite for change.
As one survey respondent put it, we need to “either adjust school hours or adjust work hours to fit the school timetable — and have a better match between the amount of annual leave available and the amount needed to cover school holidays.“
(Many Beam employers provide school hours jobs — which is an extremely effective use of part-time work.)
2. Let people work from home
Many people were very keen on working remotely — from time to time. They were looking to companies to provide the technology (and encouragement) to do this.
“Workplaces don’t have to be traditional 9 to 5 with desktop computers. Laptops are a thing and just because a person works part-time doesn’t make their skills or input less valuable.”
Beam employer PwC agrees. As part of their ‘all roles flex’ policy, working from home is one potential benefit that employees can work into their routines.
By supporting each individual’s unique flexibility needs — whether that be basing working hours around childcare or allowing time for external passions — PwC has been able to create a trust-based community which places value on the work employees do rather than the hours spent at a desk.
Letting people work from home isn’t necessarily about cutting costs, it’s about shifting ownership back to the individual to design a career structure that best suits them.
3. Be flexible about when people do the work
As well as flexibility to work from home, people want flexibility about when the work gets done. Again, trust in the employee underlined many of our respondents’ flexibility requests. (A trust that we know must go in both directions!)
One person wanted to “be able to work from home when needed and pick children up from school spend that precious few hours with them and after dinner do a couple of extra hours work if needed.”
Another wanted the flexibility to “work more at different times of year, with more time off in school holidays.” Smart!
4. Take the gender out of part-time work
We know that men are twice more likely than women to have part-time requests denied. For many responding to our survey, that needs to change.
We saw a growing impatience of the perception of part-time work as gendered. People wanted to see active encouragement of a diverse range of people working flexibility — and visible examples of men taking up part-time or flexible roles.
In other words, words are nice, actions are meaningful. Companies should “make it culturally acceptable (not just written into policy) for men to work part-time/flexibly.” Working part-time does not mean you’re not committed to your career.
5. But put the gender (equity) into all roles. Not just support roles.
Our respondents want to see more women in leadership roles, and working part-time. You can’t be what you can’t see!
Currently in Australia, only 6% of managers and above work part-time. This figure hasn’t changed in four years. However research from Bain, McKinsey and BCG all points to part-time as a necessary part of the solution to driving gender equity in leadership roles.
Interestingly, there are many companies who want to implement part-time as part of their workforce strategy, however not many know how to do it well. Beam is helping them with everything from removing structural barriers to mindset changes and part-time role scoping. We need to see this 6% number change.
6. Create flexibility for everyone. Not just parents.
Much of the conversation about part-time work can focus on parents. But we know that people have different reasons for seeking flexibility. And many people want it.
As one person told us, “I don’t have children, don’t plan to have children, but would love to have the opportunity to work flexibly.”
Companies should “ensure that everyone works reasonable hours, so that they have time for other commitments or interests (whatever they may be).”
For companies, this is smart. Other research has shown that people who feel they have a good work-life balance exert 21% higher discretionary effort. Win win.
7. Think out of the box on flexibility
We loved some of the other flexible ideas our respondents were interested in: career breaks, secondments, volunteering and community contribution opportunities.
For respondents, strong communication with management was key to exploring part-time and flexible possibilities.
We need to have “honest conversation about what working hours suit,” said one respondent, and a “willingness to accept hours outside the 9-5 norm on both sides of employer and employee”.
You won’t see us arguing!!