Is stigma undermining your flex policy?

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Having a flexible working policy in place isn’t enough to get your employees on board – that’s the warning from one senior HR figure who says leaders have to stamp out the stigma too.

Robin Davies is the director of people and culture at beverage giant Lion – just last month, the firm was recognised at the Diversity Awards New Zealand for its comprehensive flexible working policy.

Despite the recent achievement, Davies says Lion has always had a flexible working policy in place but it only became truly effective after the company rolled out some experiments to find out why people weren’t using it and what issues they were facing.

“We identified a big challenge around the stigma of flex in our organisation,” she tells HRD. “People were telling us that they really felt that their commitment would be questioned to Lion if they worked flexibly.”

It was a revelation that came as a surprise to Lion’s senior leadership team, who Davies says have always embraced flexible working arrangements.

“I think the stigma was coming more so from our team members than our leaders – certainly our senior leaders felt that employee commitment wouldn’t be questioned at all,” she says.

As a result, leaders faced into the problem and employed multiple tactics to try and stamp out the stigma.

“We made sure our leadership team and all of the leaders were role modelling that flexible working so even things as simple as announcing it loudly if they were leaving the office early to pick up kids or go to the gym,” she explains.

“We also had our Proud to Flex campaign where we used posters and videos to share lots of personal stories from team members, leaders and senior leaders.”

While anecdotes can certainly be effective, Lion also wanted to offer staff concrete evidence which proved staff wouldn’t be damaging their careers if they chose to work flexibly.

“We follow that up with tangible results so employees can see people who are working flexibly are still getting great development opportunities, they’re still getting opportunities to move into new roles and they’re being involved in exciting projects.”

Finally, the leadership team is also held accountable for the level of stigma within the organisation.

“We survey all of our people every six months and one of the questions is; ‘My commitment to Lion would be questioned if I chose to work flexibly,’” says Davies.

“Now, the New Zealand leadership team actually has a goal around the culture of flex and we’ve got to significantly improve the responses to that question over this financial year.”

The same survey also asks staff a number of other questions which cover everything from workplace relationships to employee engagement.

“We can cut all of our results by people working flexibly and people not working flexibly and there’s a really strong pattern which shows people who identified that they work flexibly are more highly engaged, have a stronger relationship with their leader, and have higher levels of wellbeing compared to those who aren’t working flexibly,” Davies tells HRD.

“We then openly share those scores across the business at any opportunity and all of the senior leaders are sharing those, talking about those and encouraging people to work flexibly.”

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