Flexible Work Arrangements - How flexible are they really?

Robert Sheffield
March 16, 20203 mins read

A controversial conversation at best. An uncomfortable meeting, unsettling feeling or even an argument at worst.

As a recruiter I find myself frequently in conversations with people around ‘flexibility'.

Whether that’s a client professing that they accommodate flexible practices or a candidate requesting a flexible organisation. But what does flexibility in the workplace mean? The definition may vary depending on who you ask. That is because our lives and requirements shape our perspective of flexibility.

Before I delve any further it would be remiss to write a blog about flexibility without acknowledging and reinforcing the positive impact flexibility is having on modern workforces across productivity, revenue, attrition, engagement and culture. 

flexible work arrangements

I was recently engaged to recruit for a client that coins themselves as ‘flexible’.

This is a great selling point for talent, often enticing people who may require more ‘flexibility’ to apply.

However, on placing someone there they found out that flexibility to their manager meant the ability to go to doctor's appointments, take lunch when you want and work core hours between 8:30am -6:30pm. For my candidate who was hoping to work a day a week from home this view of ‘flexibility’ didn’t necessarily measure up to her own expectations. 

Embarking on a more ‘flexible’ era which embraces ‘flexible’ practices has left many people and organisations confused around the parameters. My observations during conversations with both organisations and professionals is that people have started to use ‘flexibility’ without defining and applying it to their life or workplace. 

Another Example:

Candidate A comes to me and says ‘I’d love to join a company that offers flexible work arrangements’. Candidate A would like to work the hours of 8:30am-4:30pm and work one day a week from home.
Business A comes to me and says ‘We are a flexible organisation and offer employees the right to work flexibly’. Business A works 4 day weeks and one of those is from home. Business A requires their team to be around on days when they are at home or out of the office so that impacted audiences and stakeholders have someone present. 

You can see the situation that is about to unfold.

If neither party, nor the recruiter probe as to one another’s expectations these ‘flexible’ requests don’t marry up. 

The answer?

It’s quite simple: Communication.

Let’s not be grey about flexibility because if anything it contradicts the balance we are seeking to strike and potentially only offers more anguish and strife. Be clear about your expectations. Set parameters and requests upfront. If your requirements are deal breakers then don’t be coerced by recruiters or friends telling you to keep you flexible requests for once you’ve started. Equally, as hiring managers don’t speak of flexibility without outlining your expectations such as when you require your team to be in, how you like to work and whether your stakeholders require you in the office. 

Lastly if you are going through a recruiter make sure you’re upfront with them about your expectations and deal breakers too. Recruiters are there to be your ally in finding the right match to a harmonious working environment and high performing team. 

Robert Sheffield's picture
Managing Director - Greater China


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