Executive summary

Flexible working is fundamental to the future of work within charities – a sector with social justice and compassion at its heart. It’s vital to attracting and retaining the most talented people in our sector, and essential for building inclusion, equity, diversity, wellbeing, and healthy trust-based cultures where everyone can thrive and do their best work.

Covid-19 has taught us that we can work differently – and more flexibly – when the will is there. There is now a unique opportunity to build on what we have learnt during the pandemic and move on from outdated ways of working – redesigning work in the voluntary sector so that supporting people’s ‘whole selves’ and productivity can go hand in hand.

We as a sector should be the people who are thinking most about our people, and aspire to be world leading in our approach to flexible working. If we can understand more about what each other is doing and embed the best – and achieve a shared understanding what good looks like – then that would be a terrific platform to build on.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind

Key findings

Inclusion

At its heart, flexibility is about inclusion for everyone. Flexible working should be a central part of conversations about social justice, social mobility and how charities become more inclusive, equitable and diverse. Best practice for employers is to take a ‘reason-neutral’ approach to decision-making – making flexibility available to all.

Take the onus off individuals

Too often, it’s left to employees to ‘make flex work’. Anxiety about seeming less committed can make people feel the need to ‘over-compensate’ for their working patterns by working too hard or accepting unrealistic roles or expectations. Many feel it’s their responsibility alone to ‘make things work’. Organisations need to step up proactively to make sure their culture, systems, policies, communication and structures support flexibility.

Job design

The starting point for successful flexibility is thinking differently and creatively about how we organise work and design roles. The priority is to start job design with ‘yes to flex’ as a first principle. This means proactively considering how flexible working could be possible for every role, thinking creatively about the different types of flexibility available, and planning how work can be distributed equitably and effectively when people have different working patterns.

Trust and empowerment

While having a strong flexible working policy can be an important starting point – it’s just the start of the journey for a truly flexible culture. Ultimately flexibility isn’t about policies or rules. It’s a mindset and culture of trust and empowerment, that focuses on outcomes and impact over hours worked, that will build a successful flexible working culture.

Experimentation and innovation

No organisation will come up with something that works for everyone all the time. It’s not always easy to make flex work, but the important thing is to try. The best solutions come from having the courage to experiment, take small steps, make mistakes, adjust, learn and improve, be honest about what is and isn’t working and focus on individual needs.

Role modelling from the top

Role modelling from leaders really matters when it comes to flexibility. Choosing a work pattern that promotes your own work-life balance and wellbeing sends a strong message that this is how you do business here, and gives others confidence to make a request.

Recommendations

  1. Backed by ACEVO and NCVO, the voluntary sector to champion a default position of ‘yes to flex’ – where employers proactively consider how flexibility is possible in the job design for all roles, for everyone.
  2. Flexibility to be advertised for all roles – so employers openly lead the conversation about how flexibility can work, and the focus isn’t on the candidate to request it.
  3. Organisations and individuals to openly share their stories of how flexibility is working – so that best practice, learning and inspiration are easily available in the sector, confidence is built, and stigma is reduced.
  4. Organisations to embrace a position of trust – where individuals are more empowered to manage their time based on outcomes and impact, rather than when and where they work.
  5. Organisations to have the courage to experiment, make mistakes, adjust, learn and improve, and be honest about what is and isn’t working while keeping a focus on individual needs.
  6. Flexibility to become a central pillar of equity, diversity and inclusion, and wellbeing strategies.