· 2 min read · News

No single business case for flexible working


Different sectors and divisions, even within the same organisation, will require their own context-specific cases

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to building and presenting the business case for flexible working, according to a panel of experts speaking at the Working Families Annual Conference 2016, attended exclusively by HR magazine.

The event marked the launch of Working Families’ new ‘Building the Business Case’ online resource. The guide aims to cater for HR departments as they introduce, bed-in, and encounter opposition to flexible working, and to help employers futureproof strategies.

“Very large organisations will need to make a different business case for different bits of their organisation,” said Jonathan Swan, research and policy manager at Working Families. He explained that the guide allows HR teams to pull out and use stats and case studies – on retention, productivity or diversity for example – most relevant to their business or division.

Also speaking at the event was Monica Gordon, diversity and inclusion manager for BAE Systems’ Naval Ships division. She spoke on the business case made for this division’s non-office staff – employees for whom many might assume flexible working would be unsuitable.

Gordon explained that the case presented to the business was the need to manage overtime costs more effectively, and satisfying the division’s sole customer, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and its increased interest here.

The result was a model “revolutionary in its sector”, whereby production line staff work to targets rather than set hours. Because targets are often hit by Thursday that typically gives employees every Friday off. Although “it took a long time to persuade people [BAE wasn’t] trying to steal a benefit from them”, and though persuading some managers is an ongoing challenge, the outcome has been a much more engaged and team-orientated workforce, said Gordon.

Regarding the need to continually evolve flexible working, Gordon told HR magazine after her talk: “We’ve done quite a bit of generational analysis and we know that what Gen Y wants is different to Baby Boomers. So who knows what Gen Z will want. The pendulum might even swing back a bit.”

Also speaking at the event was head of inclusion at RBS Marjorie Strachan. She stressed the importance of flexible working as a solution to challenges faced by the business, and “keeping things simple”. Regarding the business case at RBS, she explained: “You can’t be a trusted organisation unless you’re demonstrating through your behaviours and values that you’re inclusive.”

Making flexible working a success has been about “being very clear around the commercial case for being a more inclusive organisation”, and ensuring this doesn’t just sit “under the guardianship of HR”.

“Being an inclusive bank needs to be part of executive conversations,” she added.

Resource has actually been taken out of RBS’s D&I budget in recent years, Strachan revealed. “50% of that budget has actually been cut,” she said. “[With too much resource and overly complex, separate HR strategies] everyone creates data and admires the plans; they get distracted by coming up with the plan.”

Strachan told HR magazine that she sees introducing flexible working as a change management process. “You can’t get to an environment where people can work flexibly by processes or policies. You have to ensure through culture and leadership actions that it’s clearly supported,” she said.

For more information on Working Families’ Building the Business Case guide, visit: http://bit.ly/1TgrElw

The results of the Top Employers for Working Families Awards, supported by HR magazine, will be announced 13 June