Modern employers must embrace the concept of flexible working so they can hang onto the skills of skilled, diverse and experienced staff. Here are some tips.
More from: Flexible working: Shared benefits
The 21st century workplace is evolving. New legislation is challenging previously held notions of how, when and where we work. To recruit and retain the best talent, employers up and down the land are implementing a more flexible approach to keep their people engaged, motivated and productive at work.
The skills shortage in the construction industry is well documented. Employers today are not only facing the challenge of ongoing economic pressures - tighter margins, increasing operating costs, competition driving wages up - they are now also looking for innovative ways to retain the knowledge and skills they do have to maintain utilisation and meet the needs of their clients. This war for talent is driving a seismic shift in the way we work.
Today’s workplace can often include four or five generations working side by side, each of which have different requirements but can add enormous value to a business.
Understanding and adapting to the motivations of these individuals in your workplace can have wide-ranging benefit.
Diversity in the workplace Encouraging more women into the engineering and science professions is at the top of most of today’s engineering consultancy board room agendas. There is growing evidence that ensuring diversity in the workplace (in all its forms) leads to better organisational performance as a result of a more productive and motivated workforce with a wider range of views and perspectives - this in turn improves profitability, drives innovation and leads to better decision-making.
Encouraging women back to work after they have had children is a big driver for organisations seeking to address the gender imbalance. With new legislation allowing fathers to take additional paternity leave up to 26 weeks, care for the children is no longer seen as solely “women’s work”.
Men who take this up will need to work with their teams to plan ahead and adjust their workload to accommodate this, in the same way women have had to over the years.
While it may present some challenges initially, it will enable fathers to spend time with children in those important first few months, which until now hasn’t been a viable option.
Continuous professional development
All employers want to recruit and retain the highest calibre employees. These cutting edge skills and experiences can be difficult to cultivate in full time work. Employee benefits such as the opportunity to take sabbaticals or providing the time to pursue further studies, research a particular topic or write a paper or book are valuable perks that will reflect positively on the individual and the organisation - especially for those “go-getter” employees looking to fast track their careers.
Case study: Highways
Charlotte Southgate is a senior engineer, specialising in highways technology. Currently, she is working on the Doha Expressway ITS design.
One aspect of her role which gives her the most satisfaction is being a part of a team and effectively applying her experience and knowledge to the many different projects with which she has been involved.
“I have a two and a half year old daughter and really want to spend the time with her as she grows up.
“Being able to work flexibly has meant that I am both a happier employee and a happier parent. As a result, I am keen and eager in both roles.
“Ours is a very fast paced team, so catching up with design progress can be challenging, but I have a very supportive project team. I was recently seconded to theHighways Agency for six months, which was a fantastic opportunity that I hadn’t expected on flexible hours. I think it’s becoming more commonplace. I am not sure that I could have said the same a decade ago.”
Alternatives to retirement
With the abolition of the default retirement age, employers have an opportunity to retain invaluable skills, experience and relationships by thinking outside the box with regard to their senior employees.
Today’s empty-nesters aren’t necessarily looking to take to the golf course or the garden seven days a week.
Considering part-time employment (such as a four day week) is an ideal solution for someone still wanting to make a meaningful contribution, but who has other interests they want to pursue.
From a business perspective, this retains their skills and experience in the business.
Living in the digital age presents far more flexible working options than ever before. With the right internet connections, we can be as effective working in a café, at home or at a client’s office as we are sat at our own desk in our company office.
An important fact to bear in mind when thinking about remote working is the human requirement for interaction. The value of face-to-face interaction with our colleagues and management to spark creativity and innovation, over instant messaging cannot be underestimated.
In the interests of all employees and the ongoing operation of the business, flexible working requests should be seen in the context of the broader team and the potential it can bring to working together in new ways that make sense for all employees.
Savvy employers will use the new legislation to motivate and inspire their people as part of their overall recruitment and retention strategy. By using these to foster engaged and loyal employees who enjoy what they do and where they do it - everyone wins. We lead 21st century lives; we should use these tools to move away from 20th century work practices.
Case study: Highways structures
William Day is a technical director in Hyder’s highways structures team.
“My role within the team is to provide support and advice and externally expert advice to clients, who include the Canal & River Trust; the Rochester Bridge
Trust and the Highways Agency,” he says.
“My area of work includes forensic engineering and heritage - seemingly disconnected, but surprisingly close.
Forensic engineering is an essential part of understanding historic structures and has applications in accident and extreme events, as well as in interpreting how structures will perform in conditions at the limits of design standards.
Working in these fields is not a nine to five job and demands considerable flexibility. On the other hand, this can be linked to flexible working and a reduced working week. I have been working a four day week for the last two years.
It allows me to enjoy and indulge in my other interests that include historic engineering and the development of young engineers aspiring to professional status.
“Working in this way reflects my status, as being over 65 and looking for a reduced input into an area
that still enthuses me.
To just walk away is not conceivable, and it provides the opportunity to spend more time involved in my other interests. An increase in free time with a continued involvement in a career for which I have always had great enthusiasm is the ideal scenario for me.”
This report has been produced in association with Hyder Consulting
Flexible working: Moving with the times