Why HR should “start with a yes”

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While most organisations now realise the value of flexible working, some leaders still won’t agree to an alternative arrangement unless there’s a significant reason to say yes – now, one prominent HR head is calling on others to turn that approach upside down.

Robin Davies is the director of people and culture at beverage giant Lion – the firm was recently recognised at the Diversity Awards New Zealand for its impressive flexible working policy.

Part of its success, according to Davies, is down to the company approaching every flexible working request with a yes – unless there’s a significant business reason to say no.

“That has been the single most important thing that we’ve done in our flex journey because it’s totally changed the conversation and it’s changed the mind-set of our leaders towards flex,” she tells HRD.

“Starting with a yes, unless there is a significant business reason not to, is a whole lot different than starting from a no, unless there’s a reason to make it work,” she explains.

By changing the approach, the firm has seen a huge increase in the number of employees working flexibly because they no longer think the perk is just for people with family obligations.

“We’ve got 42 per cent of our people working flexibly and most commonly it’s for personal wellbeing so that could be starting later in the morning to exercise before work or it could be shifting their hours to start and finish a bit early to avoid the traffic,” says Davies.

Instead of making employees prove their reason for seeking flexible work is a valid one, Lion now considers every request alongside the concept of a three-way win.

“It’s got to work for the person, it’s got to work for Lion but it’s also got to work for their team,” says Davies. “We noticed in some of those early ‘flexperiments’ that quite often we were not considering that team angle and a person in the business and a leader would make an arrangement and think it would work well but actually it ended up adversely impacting another team member.”

Now, the company ensures there is a team discussion about how everyone is going to work together to ensure success.

“That hasn’t stopped us saying yes to any flexible working arrangements – certainly none that I’m aware of – but it just means that we need to have those three way conversations before we enter into a flex arrangement so everybody understands the ground rules and how they can navigate those because it can be a little bit complex.”

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