NEWS4 October 2021

Role modelling and trust needed for flexible working and wellbeing

Covid-19 Inclusion News Trends UK Wellbeing

UK – To build flexible workplaces, research employers must be able to trust their staff and act as role models within the organisation, according to panellists at a recent forum held by MRS.

Desk home working remote flexible freelance_crop

With many research organisations making a partial return to offices as well as continuing to work from home, the conversation around flexible work has shifted as companies adopt hybrid working models.

Speaking at an online event held by the MRS Flex Forum on Thursday ( 30th September), Darren Lewis, country manager at Kadence UK, which introduced flexible working prior to the pandemic, said trusting people is key to flexible working being a success.

Lewis said: “Once we focused on having 100% trust in employees, we stopped watching the clock. If you’ve got trust in employees, if you want to go and do something or need to go and do it, we trust you to do your job.

“It seems like a small thing but it makes a massive difference. It was a contributor to the quality of our work and in terms of our relationships. You don’t have to clock-watch all the time and you need to work in a way that suits you.”

Lewis said the shift to a more flexible model began around five years ago when the company decided it didn’t want people working long hours. 

Sinead Jefferies, founder of Vela, said people should also “adapt their mind set” of what the working day looks like while working from home.

Jefferies said: “Assuming companies have got that culture of trust and are supportive of that, and the more they can role-model that, by sharing what you’re doing and normalising it, it gives people who might be more hesitant the permission to do that, for example, leave their desk to go out for a run. It was easy when everyone was sitting at their desks at home all day every day.

“Companies need to think about how to set out how they want to work and what works for them. There’s no one-size-fits-all – you have to think about what’s right for a particular situation.”

Role-modelling is particularly important when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, added Jefferies

“Get people used to the fact it’s OK to have these conversations and for people to have weaknesses,” she said. “There’s a lot of goodwill among business leaders saying that they acknowledge everyone’s a bit stressed. It feels like the right thing to say, to give people reassurance but that’s not the right thing to say because it normalises it – it’s kind of telling people it’s not just them and they should expect to feel stressed and under pressure.”

Lewis added: “It’s important, as leaders, to take part in the things you roll out e.g. mindfulness sessions. Everyone’s got to be bought into the same things – there shouldn’t be a hierarchy.”

The two also shared some advice for businesses trying to embed more wellbeing:

  • Set out expectations. “What are the boundaries around commitment, and responding to emails out of hours, etc? Being really clear on what’s expected there is really important,” said Jefferies.
  • Have mental health resources available and remind people they exist. “Signpost resources regularly – you need to remind people they are there. When you do company updates, talk about financial results but also how you’re supporting people to be themselves and development – make it clear your people are right up there with revenue in terms of priority,” said Jefferies.
  • Be honest if employees are doing too much. Lewis said: “One of the downsides of flexible working is people doing too much work and doing more than they would be doing if they weren’t working flexibly. It’s about having honest conversations.”

1 Comment

3 years ago

Thanks Darren and Sinead for your thoughtful contribution on this topic - that is probably close to the hearts of all of us managing research companies. In many respects we have been lucky at The Nursery - the whole company ethos and culture has always been based on trust - we've had some partners (all our employees are partners now) working from home for several years, and whilst the move to full remote working was traumatic, it was nowhere near as difficult as it might have been. You need good technology - remote access to the network which facilitates good remote working but it has to be married to a commitment to looking after all of your people. We can't hide behind any research products, tools or black boxes, our business is our people so if we don't look after them properly we don't have a business. That made it relatively easy to shift our priorities to working out how we care for people who only exist at the end of a zoom or teams call. But it did engender a greater sense of equality and empathy across the business - no matter your job title your square on a zoom call remains the same size - and that shared experience definitely helped managers support other partners through the dark times. There's new learning now as we move into hybrid working - but the underlying principles remain the same, based on absolute trust in your partners, a shared experience, and a recognition that as we blend home and work life we also blend some of the anxieties, and we all need to be cognisant of that.

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