Flexible working where you'd least expect, part two

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Many firms claim flexible working ‘won’t work’ for them. These examples prove there are options for everyone

It’s taken a while but finally the words ‘flexible working’ are no longer synonymous with frazzled parents looking to combine work and family. Neither is a flexible approach purely associated with white collar office jobs where people can organise their time neatly around deadlines, working from behind a screen wherever that screen might be.

With a growing number of employees demanding more flexibility, the vast majority of industries must take heed. As Kirstie Axtens, head of employer services at Working Families, says: “[Flexible working] has been extended to more employees who work in a wide range of jobs and industries. If you’re not flexible you run the risk of losing people and falling behind.”

We talk to three very different organisations about how they’re offering workers a surprising degree of flexibility, considering the roles and sectors they’re in.

West Midlands Police (WMP)

Historically the police as an employer doesn’t have a reputation for being at the forefront of flexibility, in part due to the ‘jobs for life’ culture that kept employees loyal. However, times have changed and retaining experienced talent is much harder. As Rebecca Hess, human resources business adviser at WMP, says: “Although police employers can still largely rely on a very motivated and loyal workforce they cannot take it for granted. Generation Y and Millennials will most likely push the agenda even further.”

The main reason WMP introduced more flexible practices was to support women having children. However, the opportunity to apply for flexible working is available to all after six months of service. The majority takes the form of reduced or compressed hours, but the force also accommodates job sharing, term-time and annualised hours where possible. It is also piloting self-rostering and routinely looks at cases where someone challenges the rejection of flexible working. “We don’t have to do this, but we think it helps foster greater confidence in the process and results in more innovative solutions,” says Hess.

The force faces particular challenges due to fluctuating staffing levels, workload, shift work, weekend work, local agreements, police regulations and the pressures of austerity. However, these challenges are well worth overcoming because the demands on employees are so high and terms and conditions are sometimes “squeezed by austerity or politics about pay and conditions”.

“We are able to keep our skilled people, maintain productivity and get better outcomes because of the more diverse nature of the high-calibre and committed staff we now have,” says Hess.

Check back tomorrow to read what retailer Dobell Menswear is doing to embrace flexible working

The Ministry of Defence's approach to flexible working

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