Everyone recognises that offering employees more flexibility in terms of their working hours and location can make them happier and more productive, but it often doesn't happen. What's getting in the way? According to experts, rusted-on business habits and inflexible pay systems.
Picture by Frank Hebbert
I attended a panel discussion on the changing workplace environment in Australia yesterday. We've already mentioned one interesting nugget from that event: a reminder that even when you're pay $160,000 a year, you won't necessarily attract someone to a job. Pay alone may not be enough any more.
So if everyone wants to offer more flexibility to attract the best staff, why doesn't it happen more often? One reason might be that existing systems simply aren't set up to cope. If your employer relies on paper timesheets, offering people the option to work from home can be an issue. "As we try and attract a workforce in terms of mobility, how we get information to the business from those locations is a challenge," Craig Osborne, local MD for Sage MicrOpay, pointed out.
Sure, it's not hard to have a payroll system that doesn't use paper at all, but many businesses are reluctant to change existing systems, even though that's a stupidly short-term view. "Unless employers start to embrace these tools, their cost of employing peopleis going to go up," Osborne said.
Employers have also been reluctant to change their existing view of employing people to fill a specific defined position, rather than defining business outcomes and then matching them to available resources. "Rather than jobs, you have to talk about roles and how to fill those roles," said Daniel Sheahan, general manager for ComOps.
Technology has made workplace flexibility more appealing, since many white-collar jobs don't require much more than a phone, a PC and an Internet connection. However, the shift away from traditional lifetime employment roles predates that shift. "30 years ago, people started becoming loyal to their profession," said Matthew Franceschini, CEO of Entity Solutions. "Employers need to adapt their policies to remain competitive." Franceschini argues that the modern workplace often works rather like a movie set: a large group of skilled individuals work together on a project, but then move on.
With a movie, there's a clearly defined outcome, which is often a problem with other jobs. If your traditional measure of productivity (and base for payment) is hours worked, how can you shift that? Franceschini pointed out that a job which doesn't have any measurable outputs other than hours worked might actually be a pointless job.
There are some obvious limits on this kind of flexibility. If you're a bus driver, for instance, you obviously can't work from home, and working on limited contracts won't necessarily be effective or practical. However, that doesn't mean you couldn't have flexible work arrangements in other ways: more flexible rostering arrangements, for instance.
How well does your current employer handle requests for flexibility, and is it something you'd consider before taking a new job? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.