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Flexibility – the two way stretch!

I recently read about Sir Richard Branson’s new policy to let staff in his family offices take leave when they like without seeking permission, as long as their break will not have a detrimental impact on the business. He really favours a more flexible approach to work.

I’m a big fan of flexibility and this got me thinking about employee engagement. What do you need to do to get employees working at their very best?

Flexibility is one extremely important factor. People with children often need times off unexpectedly; others want to go off and do adventurous things, do voluntary work or care for others. There are many different reasons why it’s valuable to employees.

Business owners often want staff to be able to work flexibly too, so if there’s a big project on or a very busy period, the work can be done without major extra costs. The most successful companies are those that are flexible, but if you want this from your employees, you need to be sure you are too!

Sometimes people’s work may be finished by 3pm but because it’s a 9 – 5 job they have to twiddle their thumbs for two hours. Other times you may want them to stay on until 7pm, but if you have a 9 – 5 mentality, they’ll resent it – though if you were more flexible they wouldn’t mind. Flexibility certainly works both ways…

Of course there need to be guidelines and clear targets, but when you give people responsibility they’ll take it. Treat them like children and they’ll act like children and try to get away with things.

If people achieve what you need them to, who cares when or how they do it!

I’ve worked for companies at both extremes. In my first job my boss was very mean. In our department we really enjoyed what we did, were very committed and never left before 6pm, even though we officially finished at 5pm. One day I had to leave at 4.50pm to pick up my husband from the airport and my boss carried on and tut-tutted, and asked what would the other staff say. I was so insulted and his attitude was so counter-productive, would he have preferred me to have a set 9 – 5 attitude? In another company I worked for, they were very flexible and gave me lots of responsibility and autonomy and as a result I loved my job and did far more than the 40 hours I was paid for.

So that’s my motto – give people flexibility and responsibility, and you’ll get back way more than you ever asked for.

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