What to do when you can’t offer flexible working

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Flexible working may be the most coveted employee perk but some employers simply can’t offer the incentive – so what are they supposed to do instead? Here, one SVP of HR shares her thoughts.

“In certain manufacturing or production settings, it’s not always easy, but employers have to ask themselves what other options are available that would show at least some flexibility,” says industry expert Faith Tull.

“If you’ve got collective labour agreements, you’ll find that there are other areas of concern – whether it’s sick time, pension, or holiday pay – that is the bane of their existence when a lot of negotiation is happening,” she told HRM.

“So if HR is at the table, look at opportunities in those areas that mean a lot more for those individuals and see how much flexibility you have to negotiate in the areas where it means the most,” she advised.

Tull is the SVP of HR for Randstad Canada – she encouraged HR professionals to concentrate on opening a dialogue with employees to find out what they value the most and where some flexibility would be most appreciated.

“Certainly it can be difficult but I think if you open the dialogue you make it a priority to find a win-win situation for both,” she stressed. “I believe that’s where HR will earn its seat at the table to have those discussions, to be fiscally responsible but also keep an engaged workforce.”

Employee surveys, she suggests, can be an effective way for HR to find out what really matters to employees but warns of the dangers of not reacting once the results are in.

“Employee surveys usually happen on a regular basis – be committed to that, communicate the results, and commit to taking action,” she urged.

“It doesn’t have to be all or everything on the wish list but ask what the most impactful things are, what is the percentage of people asking for this, how is it the most impactful and how is it the most cost effective? Look to implement those low-hanging fruits because it can go a long way.”

Toronto-based Tull says senior HR leaders also have a responsibility to encourage managers to be as flexible as possible in order to positively impact the bottom line.

“Depending on the culture of the organization, I think the HR professional should be at the table and raise the issue of how to get the most out of your employees and how to keep them engaged and certainly have opportunities to coach and have a platform to show managers how they can do that,” she told HRM.

“There are different touch points in the employment life cycle where you’re having conversations – whether you have formal performance reviews, whether the manager has one-on-one sessions, whether it’s an anniversary discussion – encourage the leaders to open the dialogue to say; ‘How are you doing, how can I help you, what would make you more engaged? Let’s talk about that.’”

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