Employees are increasingly making agile and flexible working requests on both an informal and formal basis. So how does a manager manage this new way of working?

There is no one winning formula, but we know the role of line managers is changing so that they must now expect such requests and address them effectively on a case by case basis. What is clear and common to all is that flexible working must meet the needs of the business as well as the individual. Asking to start work at 4pm – yes, this a real life example – is very likely to be rejected unless of course the job is global and the timing makes sense.

The role of the manager is critical to making flexible working work. But they are also regularly cited as one of the biggest barriers to effectively implementing flexible work. According to recent research by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), for example, almost half of respondent managers (48%) think that allowing some people to work flexibly causes resentment within teams. In addition, the extra pressure on managers has also been highlighted as a challenge, with some reporting that work-life balance practices increased managerial workloads.

All this amounts to added pressure on line managers as they attempt to manage the atypical worker. So what are firms doing to support them? Here is what we recommend:

  1. Training for managers – create open communication and trust. Provide managers with the skills to consider a range of flexible working options – job shares, part-time, compressed working weeks, etc. and show that you are supportive so that they do not feel they have to automatically say No for fear of the difficulties. Also make clear key strategic objectives – for example, Pinsent Masons state reasons for embedding agile working is to deliver employee engagement, recruitment and retention strategies which some managers may not think about day to day. Firms are offering training, (even at induction stage) lunch-time briefing sessions with time to role-play how they would consider a proposal – for example, how to say no if a request is really untenable.
  2. Role modelling – i.e., allowing managers to work flexibly themselves. This worked well in my experience in professional services firms for both men and women. Those teams that have role models already in place are more accepting of flexible working. It is an effective tool by which a manager can share how they manage work-life balance and that it does not indicate a lack of commitment. Many managers are now open about their diary and so their team can see they are going to the gym or will be in late due to a school play.
  3. Performance management – it is the role of manager to assure flexible workers that they will not be passed over for promotion or career development just because their working patterns fit outside the norm. They are also responsible for addressing concerns that flexible workers are less committed because they are not working long hours. Managers will need to manage their teams on performance, outcomes, competencies, and to be able to advise their flexible workers on how to progress – for example, the importance of networking if it is an integral part to their job or promotion. I know many Partners / Directors etc who have been promoted regardless of their working hours because they have had the support of others and have been able to provide evidence of their performance – for example, % of sales, numbers of new recruits regardless of the hours worked. It is also important that the team is managed throughout the year and any problems with flexible working is managed throughout the year.
  4. Manager’s performance – managing flexible working should now be part of the competencies and objectives expected of managers. Ability to manage excessive workloads is a challenge for managers when they are trying to keep workloads under control as well as managing expectations of senior managers. A manager with good management and people management skills is likely to make a good work-life balance manager. An essential requirement is the ability to manage workloads, (including effective planning, scheduling and delegation). Being able to evidence this new way of working for their own performance management process will be critical.
  5. A management portal on an interactive Intranet – this would provide the policy and examples of case-studies of flexible working at all levels including fee earners and business support. Sharing and celebrating successful profiles and featuring senior leaders’ pledges of support, Q&As, and updates of initiatives. This could also provide a forum for managers to ask peers for advice.
  6. HR Support – making managers aware of how HR can support them on how to manage and interpret flexible working policies.
  7. Employee engagement Surveys– working parties which include managers manage the outcomes of the employee survey in regard to questions on flexible working and manage initiatives to improve results.

The success of flexible working will depend considerably on the skills of the manager in creating an open communication culture of trust and respect as agile and flexible working continues to no longer be considered as a nice-to-have.

So how does a manager manage their team flexibly, tips on how IT manager from Simmons Simmons can be found here.

If you would like to discuss any of the above please get in contact with Sarah Broad or [email protected]