Extension of right to request ‘will not damage business’

3208563010_746aa2a464_oExtending the right to request flexible working will not be unmanageable, the diversity and inclusion manager for Ford Motor Company has said.

Speaking at a Working Families conference this week, Mitra Janes said Ford has offered the right to request flexible working to all employees since 2003. From April 2014 all employees will have the right to request flexible working in the UK.

“People seem to think everyone is going to want it and the world is going to end,” said Janes. “We’ve been doing this for over ten years and our observation is that the world hasn’t ended.”

She said competitive businesses need to get to grips with flexible and agile working, with increasing globalisation meaning a nine to five approach does not make business sense. “If you’re dealing with the US then half your time is going to be unproductive.”

She added that Ford’s 98% staff retention after maternity leave is down to the company’s emphasis on helping employees balance their home and working lives. “If we were to lose them then that would have a significant impact on our business,” she said.

Janes described Ford’s ‘digital worker’ programme, which allows employees to access the Ford network from home and other locations, email on the go, have video calls with colleagues in other locations and share their desktops with other computers. She said rather than being an extra expense, the programme had lowered operating costs.

When it comes to production workers who have a fixed location, Janes said it is possible to give them flexibility through shift work and also by multi-skilling employees to do different roles at different times.

“We calculate that these practices generate value equivalent to 3% of plant costs,” she said. “When total plant costs are in the hundreds of millions, that’s a big number.”

She said employees know their roles and what will work, meaning fears of unreasonable requests are unfounded. “I have never had an employee who works on a production line ask to work from home.”

Janes added that organisations should be business-led when it comes to flexible working, rather than leaving it to HR. Business needs and the needs of employees should be deeply understood, and employers should not assume they know what flexibility their staff want without asking them.

She urged businesses to start small, perhaps trialling flexible working in one unit first, but added that big strategic change should also be considered. Finally, she emphasised the importance of leadership and ensuring managers have the “capability and capacity” to deliver change.

Ford is one of 22 founder members of the Agile Future Forum, which launched in June and aims to demonstrate the business benefits of a flexible working approach and quantify the financial gain.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/

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