The dial on flexible work arrangements is shifting for the better as younger generations start to factor it into their lives the moment they set their sights on a career, says AMP Bank’s Chief Financial Officer Victoria Hickey.
While the adoption of flex work is becoming more common, it’s not yet widespread and there’s still a lot of work to be done in helping both employees and employers see the benefits.
A few years back, Hickey recalls an experience where, as the only woman in a meeting full of men, it was decided they’d re-convene a meeting the following morning to get done what they needed to get done.
Unfortunately, the following morning just happened to be a Saturday, and with her husband away she had nobody to call on immediately to look after her two young boys at home.
“I looked around the room as everyone just agreed, without hesitation, and I thought how can you all say yes without asking your partners. When it was my turn to respond I said, “I can’t give you an answer right now as I will need to find someone to look after my kids”.
“The room went silent and I thought, “What have I done?” I was relieved then the Project Lead announced that, “Maybe we don’t need to work on Saturday after all because we all haven’t seen much of our wives and kids lately.”
“I’m sure many other working mums may have at one time or another experienced a similar situation at work. A group decision is made, without consideration of individuals’ personal commitments which might impact or restrict a person’s ability to participate.”
To shift the dial on flex work and educate our workforce broadly, Hickey believes that we need to make flexibility a mainstream conversation and one that everyone can participate in.
As a leader who has benefited from flexibility throughout my career, here are her top tips for making a flex arrangement work:
Trust the people around you – I am fortunate to have a supportive husband, leadership group, EAs and team around me. This isn’t everybody’s situation, but it’s about creating the environment which allows you and your team to work efficiently without you always being “visible and / or present”.
Learn the art of negotiation – when I first joined AMP Bank, there was an important meeting scheduled on a day I don’t work. We trialled a situation where I read the papers ahead of each meeting and fed my input in through a colleague, and eventually the meeting shifted to a day and time I could join. Remember, there’s 40 hours in the working week, hence often potential for a shift.
Manage expectations – sometimes I need to work remotely, meaning there might be little voices in the background of a teleconference call, for example. In situations like this, remind the relevant stakeholders up front so there are no surprises.
It’s a two-way street – if you’re a leader, be prepared to offer flex in return. My team know they also can work flexibly location-wise or availability-wise when they need it no permission is required –they just let me know on the day so I know how I can reach them.
Use it how you intend to – don’t work when you’re not supposed to be working. A downside of technology today often means we’re ‘always on’ and consequently ‘always available.’ Working flexibly requires you to negotiate with your boss, your peers and your team when you will be available and how. There’s an onus on YOU, the individual, to make sure you use flex how you intended to. The way I think about it is that if you asked to work four days a week to spend time with you kids or follow a passion, on the fifth day, make sure that is what you do on that day.
Ask! – you either don’t ask and don’t get it, or ask for it (or at least a trial) and see where it takes you. There is only upside in asking.
Overall the way we work today is fundamentally different to how we worked a decade ago.
“I truly believe the dial on flexibility is shifting, driven by the younger generations who are planning flexibility into their lives from a young age. Take my son for example who, at five years’ old said to me, “I can’t get a full-time job as I will need to help my wife raise our kids!”
This showcases that as future generations enter the workforce, organisations that don’t offer flex for all will lose out.
So, next time a top performer or preferred candidate enquires about flex, consider this: would you rather have them three days, four days or however many hours a week – or not at all?
A culture of flexibility helps people be their best self both at work and at home. When flex is an opportunity afforded to everyone, we can more successfully break down workplace culture barriers.