Nina Allard: Flexible working is no longer optional - it's essential

It shouldn't matter when or where people get their work done. What matters is that it's done to a high standard

Nina Allard
Nina Allard

Most charities now include a line about offering "flexible working" in their job descriptions.

At the Institute of Fundraising's annual convention earlier this month, flexible working was discussed during a panel debate as a way to attract and retain the best talent. One charity said it offered a range of options, including term-time-only hours. Cue the gasps and shocked faces across the room, and questions about how can you possibly plan for this or know that they’re doing a good job.

The charity was adamant that it had created a dedicated, passionate and high-performing team. Why? Because people were motivated to deliver their best.

Surely it is our job as leaders to create an environment where teams can deliver. It shouldn’t matter when or where people are getting their work done.

It isn’t just about offering flexible working either: it’s about embedding a culture of trust and accountability across an organisation that encourages creativity and increases impact.

I trust my team implicitly and, if they mess up, we’ll work together to learn from our mistakes. If there are performance issues, we’ll take the necessary course of action and not shy away from those difficult conversations.

There’s a growing body of evidence to show that providing flexible working can improve productivity, increase engagement and motivate staff. Research also shows that micromanagement reduces morale and can make the best people quit.

As Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, famously said: "It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." If you hire someone, you believe they are capable of doing the job, end of – otherwise it makes that arduous recruitment process a bit pointless.

So why are we so reluctant to offer more flexible working arrangements in the sector? I suspect it is because we have been conditioned to think that working 9-5 is the norm. But our lives, and certainly the sector, don’t fit into that neat little package any more. It’s time to move on.  

The key to success is a shift in culture. We need to trust people to deliver and act quickly if they don’t. The senior management team needs to lead by example by embracing new ways of working. Our systems, planning mechanisms, measures of success and, most importantly, communication also need to be made agile to reflect new ways of working.

Yes, it might require some investment but, in the long run, you’ll see the return. Once all of these components are in place, only then can you truly offer agile working as a means to attract and retain the best talent.

So rip up the "time-off-in-lieu" policy, scrap detailed job descriptions and bin the burdensome annual appraisal document. Do away with all of the bureaucratic processes that hinder the very progress that we’re seeking to achieve. And no more jokes about those leaving at 3.30pm being "part-timers" or roll your eyes when someone says they’re working from home. Start talking and trust those around you. It really works.

Nina Allard is head of mass fundraising at Make-A-Wish UK, @ningobingo

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