The power balance in flexible work
This year one of the UK’s largest accountancy organisations brought in a ‘work when you want’ deal for future employees. If you apply, you will be able to list your skills and your preferred work pattern. If your skills are required, then the firm will accommodate how and when you want to work. The benefit to both parties is clear. The organisation will attract the growing number of people who want the flexibility and choice to blend their career and life in a way that works for them.
I have worked with professional services firms since starting my career at one of them 25 years ago. These firms have always expected employees to be flexible. Generally, you work where the clients are based so your location is flexible. You will often work to fit client work patterns and deadlines, so your hours are flexible too. Finally, the team you work with can change with each client, so you will also be flexible about who you work with. Everyone joining knows that this is the deal (and don’t misunderstand me, in return employees earn very well) and the firms rely on this to achieve successful client outcomes.
Yet, in launching this initiative, is it signalling that the balance of power is shifting? I would argue that historically the control of flexible work lay very much on the side of the firm. There have been no arguments about the business case for flexible working when it has been this way around.
Now, all the data shows that as individuals we increasingly want to work flexibly. We want more control and choice about where, when and who we work with. We want a working pattern adapted to suit our needs.
Firms that can take a more individual approach to work arrangements and align the individual needs with the organisation, will be more successful in attracting and retaining talented people.
As individuals in the new world of work, we will need to be clear about what we want and the skills we bring. We will need to think carefully about the choices we are making to ensure they align with what we need. We will need to communicate these requirements confidently and clearly too, focusing on what we can do rather than what we can’t.
By balancing the power in the flexible work equation, both the organisation and individual stand to gain.