Diversity & Workplace Flexibility

We know that these two areas are linked. But what we are yet to understand is which one determines or impacts the other. So in essence, we are trying to answer this core question through the article – Does a flexible workplace lead to a more diverse workforce being there within an organization OR if the organization has a diverse workforce it tends to create a more flexible workplace?

As you might already see, the first approach is a proactive one and the second approach is a reactive one. Therefore if the organization’s vision is to be an equal opportunity provider and have employees from various segments of the population, it might first focus on setting the processes and framework that can supportive the needs of all kinds of employees. This could be any or all of the following – Job sharing, flexible timings, work from home arrangements, telecommuting, availability of childcare facilities, part-time working, compressed work weeks, staggered maternity leave and so on. As per popular belief these are the requirements of some sections of the employees. This kind of belief draws lines through the organization rather than aligns the diverse individuals together. If we look at the changing mindset of the overall workforce, the employees want a work-life balance today irrespective of their personal situation or commitments. So for example, an employee who is young and unmarried, might want to explore flexible timings or even compressed work weeks so that he or she can pursue a passion or a hobby. This needn’t be the prerogative of young mothers with small babies or those with other responsibilities such as old parents to be cared for. The core idea that one needs to arrive at is that while an organization believes that a flexible and empowering culture leads to a diverse workforce, it must also be aware of the fact that such a culture also needs to a happier and engaged overall workforce too.

When the reactive approach is used which means that the organization already has a somewhat diverse workforce, the positive aspects are that the organization can actually do an audit or assessment prior to design workplace flexibility practices. Therefore it can conduct an internal survey to understand what employees will prefer or value as well as an external survey to get an idea of what is the market practice in this area. This in a way will help them to design a robust system keeping in mind employee needs and also external benchmarks. However, it is important to understand that monitoring the impact of workplace flexibility programs on diverse segments and their usage, is also important to understand whether the investment made by the firm has been a relevant one.

Irrespective of which approach the organization uses, it should ensure that it has an all encompassing policy which applies to the entire employee population since as shared earlier, the requirement for flexible work arrangements is not just driven by family commitments only. There is a stronger focus on wholesome living and work-life balance which is driving this requirement, and hence it applies to each individual who wants to explore this choice.

Creating a flexible environment has significant impact on the "Employer Brand" and helps to attract talent from various sections of our workforce. At the other end of the spectrum it is essential to have a process of communication as well as training which will be critical for the success of such arrangements. Managers have to be receptive and adaptable to these changes, as well as remove biases related to those team members who opt for such an arrangement. This is of paramount importance since any employee who exercises his or her option to take a flexible work arrangement should be allowed to do so without any perceptions being made related to his or her performance. If performance issues arise then those should definitely be managed as per company policy. But assumptions related to performance especially by managers should be addressed and removed.

This was first published in the Business Manager Magazine, April 2014 edition.


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