Flexible working: HR we need you

‘CEO’s and executive leaders are not experts on workplace issues, but HR teams are. HR understands not only the pressures of the workplace but employment legislation, as well as the importance of health, well-being and managing people effectively.’
Michelle Gyimah

We are thrilled to welcome Michelle to our Panel of Experts, in her capacity as a Flexible Workplaces Consultant, with over 10 years’ experience of working on equality issues in the workplace.  One of our key aims is to do everything we can to make organisations more family-friendly, so we are particularly interested in workplace flexibility.  We have interviewed Michelle to find out what we can do in HR to promote flexibility:

What is the ‘official’ role of HR around flexible working applications?

The official role of HR is to enable both employees and line managers to understand what flexible working is and how it can work. This comes through training and communication on what flexible working means for both as an employee and an employer/line manager. 

HR should be in a position to teach and guide employers in making key strategic and non-discriminatory decisions when it comes to deciding flexible working request outcomes. As experts in HR, they are best positioned to understand and be able to vocalise the benefits of flexible working and enable employers to see the different ways it can be implemented to suit their particular business needs. 

Is it HR’s role to create a flexible working culture?

HR should have a key driving role in influencing how flexible working culture is developed, but as with all strategies relating to diversity and well-being, the commitment to making it work really needs to come from the top. 

In companies that are committed to creating a more flexible and inclusive workplace, HR enjoy the respect and confidence of their line managers and colleagues which enables them to implement a better culture quicker. However, HR can only do so much if there is little or no support in creating a flexible working structure. HR’s role is to have the trust and freedom to set the agenda for how flexible working will work in practice with support from their superiors. 

What are the typical challenges HR face in striving for a flexible working culture?

Resistance to change is the biggest factor that HR faces when trying to implement something new which is why HR need to be trusted to be able to influence through their expertise. CEO’s and executive leaders are not experts on workplace issues, but HR teams are. They understand not only the pressures of the workplace but employment legislation as well as the importance of health, well-being and managing people effectively. Quite often HR are seen as the ‘pinch point’ between all these conflicting pressure areas and often can be blamed or seen as nagging /interfering. Hence the resistance that they can face from above, below or both sides. 

A lot of this pressure/resistance comes from CEO’s or line managers who are focused on an end result e.g. more productivity, but are unable/unwilling to see how flexible working can help. It’s a relatively new concept and unfortunately is lazily viewed only as part-time work or something that only women with children require. With this mindset it’s easy to see why it is in direct conflict with a more traditional approach to working. The resistance to flexible working is generally based on a fear of relinquishing ‘control’ over employees, but HR know that there is more to flexible working than this. And that done correctly can be highly effective and actually allow companies to reach their intended targets much quicker. 

Do you have any tips?

It’s important to understand that introducing flexible working into your workplace is a long-term strategy which will take a while to show positive results. Clarity on why you want to introduce flexible working is extremely important as is getting HR involved in the decision making process.  During this time, allow HR to showcase their expertise and guide and set the agenda as to how this will work in practice. 

The beauty of flexible working is in its flexibility. It allows companies to decide how they want to make it work for them, rather than having more rules dictated to them. This is where your HR team is worth their weight in gold. They’ll know the mechanics of how your company works, they’ll have the data on pressure points and employee engagement areas that need improving. 

All of this gives HR unique insight into how to build flexible working in to either fix those problems or at the very least alleviate the negative effects of those problems. These things take time so by utilizing HR from the start you are giving yourself a better chance of being able to make flexible working work for your company in the long run. All of which will increase the ROI on the time and effort out into making flexible working actually work.

So, if you were to grade yourself and your fellow HR team members from 1-10 on ability to proactively create a flexible working culture, where would you stand?  Would further development in this area be beneficial to you?  Helen Letchfield (co-founder of PfP) and Michelle Gyimah run webinars and short workshops for HR on flexible working.  Do email us for more information.

Michelle Gyimah worked for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for 8 years before going freelance in 2014. For the EHRC, Michelle specialised in writing guidance for employers and delivering training seminars on equal pay and pregnancy and maternity discrimination.  She holds a Masters in Human Rights from The University of Manchester and is a regular contributor to numerous business and HR magazines.  See her website:  www.equalitypays.co.uk

Share this story

Sign up for industry updates