Our latest research with Scottish employers shows almost two thirds are offering no extra support or training to line managers, despite significant changes in how teams are working after Covid lockdowns.
Our snap poll of more than 100 Scottish business leaders and senior managers shows 85% think their employees are more likely to work flexible hours as a result of the pandemic, while 83% think members of staff are more likely to work in a mix of locations.
Yet less than a third (31%) have introduced any additional support or training for line managers. Almost two thirds (61%) have offered nothing at all.
We’re pleased employers envisage so much more flexible working. But we’re extremely concerned much of this will end in failure and disillusion if line managers aren’t supported. Our findings feature in the Herald today and we hope businesses take note.
Why line managers need support
Line managers are the lynchpins of flexible working. They usually agree changes to work patterns and manage people working in different places and at different times. They need to be equipped to have honest – and sometimes difficult – conversations, and know how to handle new processes and communicate in different ways.
But they also need to buy in to the culture of flexible working. That means understanding the long-term business benefits of flex, being open-minded about solutions and trusting of their employees to decide for themselves when and where they do their best work.
Rising employee expectations
We carried out a complementary poll of more than 100 Scottish workers, which showed 70% still want more flexibility at work, despite much more flex being available in the wake of Covid.
Employees’ expectations around flexible working are higher than ever. We’re hearing of more people leaving for better flexibility elsewhere, or even applying for other jobs simply to leverage better working conditions with their current employer.
No going back
Employers can have wonderful policies around flex, and full buy-in from the executive board. But if they don’t take the time to ensure line managers understand what it’s all about, they could wind up with employees gravitating back to the office Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, because they’re following the example, or inference, from line managers who feel more comfortable managing the ‘traditional’ way.
These employers will then find it much harder to get the best from employees, and they will struggle to recruit and retain the talented workers they need.
What does line manager support and training look like in practice?
Energy provider Centrica is currently embedding greater flexible working – brought about by Covid – for the long-term so that it becomes part of their normal way of working and this includes extra support and training for line managers.
Centrica has created personas for distinct groups of employees who work in similar ways, and has worked with line managers to come up with the right solutions for individuals and teams.
Amanda Harrison, Head of HR consultancy at Centrica says: “Like many employers, we had to react quickly to the pandemic by providing our employees with flexibility to support our customers, whilst working safely and efficiently from home. As the months have gone on, we’ve found there are many benefits to this approach.
“Now we want to embed this culture change for the long term and look for ways we can retain this flexibility whilst meeting the ongoing needs of our customers.
“However, it doesn’t matter what fantastic principles you come up with, success stands or falls on the real-time conversation between a line manager and employee. That’s why we need our managers to feel confident and equipped to have different conversations with their teams about performance and focusing on the customer whilst working flexibly. And they need to feel supported and equipped to do this.”
Scotland’s economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise (SE), has also been providing extra support and training for its line managers. The organisation held a series of workshops for line managers over the summer to prepare and support them with the organisation’s new approach to flexible working, known internally as Everyday Flexibility.
Gillian Goldie, Head of People and Organisation Development, says: “We realised early on that working more flexibly could be a huge opportunity for wellbeing, inclusion and business productivity, and that supporting our leaders and people managers was fundamental to making it a success within their teams. Reaching agreement about how flexibility will work in teams is a key part of implementing this approach effectively and ensuring that business needs are met.”