As more employees look to improve their quality of life through flexible working, managers' responsibilities in this area are becoming more demanding, with work/life balance a key factor in recruiting and retaining staff.
The needs of parents of young children, those with other types of dependents, and those who simply want more time for non-work activities all have to be catered for in work/life balance policies.
These people who would benefit from a better work/life balance often find it difficult to re-enter the workforce in conventional hours or change their role to cope with their changing availability.
Flexible working arrangements can help the IT sector reach its full potential, especially in the 24x7 world of e-business.
Effective policies for work/life balance mean continuous change, and responsibility for that change is shared between employees and managers. Work/life balance policies must have buy-in from all employees. The policies need to be integrated into corporate strategy and be backed from the top of and cascaded down to managers who can inspire staff to commit to the changes.
Managers need to acknowledge that working longer does not necessarily mean working better and that working off-site can have equal or more value than working on-site. A one-size working pattern does not fit all.
Plan your business case
Develop a business case for the policy. Consider the benefits and costs (including investment in systems which support remote working) in relation to, for example, absenteeism, staff retention and productivity.
Identify what the organisation wants through surveying and involving staff and other stakeholders. Assess what processes would be affected. Above all, invite ideas from staff and consider views objectively and with an open mind.
Make an action plan
Once you have identified what the business and its staff want, define an action plan. Specific practices for employees you might want to include are: flexi-time; staggered or compressed hours; shift swapping; job sharing; term-time working; teleworking; home working; extended leave; unpaid leave during school holidays; sabbaticals; emergency nanny care; holiday clubs; and career support such as subsidised loans.
Training programmes for managers, flexible training on new systems, briefings and feedback at all levels will also help to foster more flexible working arrangements.
Ensure that senior management leads by example. They can, for example, discourage early morning and late afternoon meetings, which can be difficult for parents with young children, or allow employees to take leave in small increments, including parental leave.
Women in the male-dominated environment of IT need role models. Female IT leaders can be valuable mentors, especially in helping women steer through the shark-infested waters of politics at senior management and executive levels.
Review and evaluate
Monitor the progress of any new policies you implement. Ask for feedback from staff on how the policies worked for them and consider acting on their feedback.
Lindsay Wittenberg is a business and executive coach-mentor and director of consultancy Lindsay Wittenberg