Flex work is a great idea but let’s not overlook the unconscious bias

When we work with organisations that have introduced flex work programmes, it often seems on the surface that they have done a great job of thinking through all of the options and risks – and of informing everyone just what it means to them. Some even cover the business case and benefits in their communication with employees.

However we are often asked just why, despite all of this planning and communication, some departments, groups and geographies do not seem to take up the option.

So we encourage them to look again – and every time they do, unconscious bias is discovered, often buried deeply in the practice of line managers and sometimes disguised by the “facts” about global responsibility or client demands.  Often we’ll see the damage done when benevolent bias is at play – when we think we are being kind, usually without consulting the person we’re think we are trying to help. By the very nature of it being unconscious, we may not even recognise that we’re doing it.

Unconscious bias is often seen to privilege and allow flex working in one group – parents with child care responsibilities for example – and not in another i.e. choosing to build in a game of golf at 6pm every summer Thursday.

Surfacing and exposing the potential for unconscious bias is critical and we would go so far as to ensure that with each flex work introduction, a module to support the reduction of bias around flex work is undertaken.

We must remember that ultimately we are looking to create inclusive environments where everyone can be fantastic, whatever their reason for choosing to work flexibly. It’s not the flex work itself that will add to the bottom line – it’s the contribution it makes to allowing people to bring all of themselves and their responsibilities and their choices to work that will make the real business difference.

Angie Peacock, CEO of the People Development Team