Two major Canadian labour centennials were celebrated in 2019: the Winnipeg General Strike and the establishment of the International Labour Organization. These moments in Canadian history revolved around workers and their rights and experiences – and where benefits supporting worker-centred wellness like weekends and eight-hour workdays were set as the new standard. In the 21st century, workplaces are seeking to establish new standards like remote and flexible work. What was once a perk is increasingly becoming a necessity, just like weekends once were.
Shifting mindsets that value quality rather than quantity of work is a first step toward flexibility. Government managers who understand the importance of work-life balance and encourage flexible working conditions are more successful at keeping their teams engaged and productive while driving up retention rates. Employees typically show stronger commitment to employers that advocate for them and take their well-being into consideration.
Government employees may require flexible work arrangements for many reasons. New parents returning from parental leave, people dealing with chronic illnesses, those caring for sick or aging parents, retirees needing additional income, employees pursuing further education, and those who live far from the office could benefit from a less traditional workplace. For some, flexibility may be required for them to be able to participate in the workforce.
This flexibility isn’t a productivity trade off; modern managers know that physical presence in the office does not guarantee excellent results. In pursuing excellence in public service, leaders must engage in attitudinal shifts that respond to growing demands for better work-life integration for effective and accessible workplaces. Flexible work can motivate employees, keep teamwork consistent, prevent burnout, and promote wellness. This encourages excellent performance – and reduces turnover. Prospective employees negotiate increasingly for environments that implement flexible work. Benefits Canada estimates that 47 per cent of Canadians work remotely. Government employers that offer latitude remain more competitive in the recruitment process and attract top candidates that might otherwise be swayed by different sectors.
Change attitudes, transform workplaces
According to the Employment and Social Development Canada 2016 report Flexible Work Arrangements: What Was Heard, changing workplace culture, compliance, and evaluation to increase flexibility can make positive changes for employees. There are many recent studies on the advantages of remote work. According to Gallup, the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60 per cent to 80 per cent of their workweek – three to four days out of five – working offsite.
Flexible workplace arrangements:
- Offer the option to start earlier or end later for various reasons, including daycare schedules, commute times, weather conditions, and medical appointments.
- Provide a flexible range of days for remote work. This can be a game changer for people with visible or invisible disabilities, chronic illnesses, and other health complications.
- Leverage online and cloud-based tools and co-working spaces to support teams to work both in office and remotely. Some federal and provincial units already use this model to replicate the benefits of co-located work and maintain ongoing communication.
- Hire fully remote staff to better reflect regional communities and local contexts.
A win for everyone
Workplace flexibility can increase employee retention, sustainability, and overall performance. Flexibility can also strengthen employer-employee relations without compromising deadlines, deliverables, or work plans.
When management addresses flexibility and better working conditions, additional benefits can arise. Equipping remote workers with a home office, instead of renting office space, cuts costs while establishing regional presence and connecting service users to service providers. Rather than centralizing headquarters in one city, this option can help grow a presence in rural and remote areas. This approach can lead to policy implementation and quality service delivery that is better community-informed.
Thoughtful managers promote attitudinal change towards flexible work practices, lead by example, and empower staff to request flexible arrangements. Public service leaders who change with the times can positively impact the lives of their employees, normalize new working standards, and ensure labour conditions within government are competitive with other sectors.