Feds looking to provide flex arrangements

Considering changes for federally regulated workers
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/12/2016

The federal government is considering making changes to ensure federally regulated workers have better access to flexible work arrangements.

The government is holding consultations on proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code, which could affect the roughly 12,000 businesses and 820,000 employees who are federally regulated. The government is also in talks with the provinces regarding similar changes. 

More and more Canadians are struggling to find the right balance between their work, family and personal responsibilities, said Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk in Flexible Work Arrangements: A Discussion Paper released in May.

“Developments in the world of work, driven by globalization, technological advances, evolving work processes and the need to constantly upgrade skills, have made workplaces more complex and challenging for workers and employers alike. At the same time, higher participation rates for women in the labour force, the rise of dual earner and single parent families, growing demands for informal caregiving as the population ages, and other factors are creating added family and personal responsibilities, especially for middle-class Canadians and those working hard to join them.”

The Canada Labour Code would be amended to allow workers in federally regulated sectors to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers.

“As a number of recent studies suggest, many are seeking more flexibility in when, how and where they work because they highly value work-life balance. Millennials are the fastest growing segment of Canada’s workforce and have now become the largest generation in the Canadian workforce,” said Mihychuk, adding the proposal is designed to ensure workers do not lose their jobs or the necessary hours to qualify for employment insurance.

The demand for flexible work options is growing rapidly, according to Ian Cameron, managing director of the McQuaig Institute in Toronto, which does an annual global talent recruitment survey.

“In 2015, 20 per cent of our respondents said that they were starting to offer flexible work arrangements to attract talent to their organization. And in 2016, that went up five per cent to 25 per cent. So it does seem to be trending that way.”

Millennials want more
Right now, millennials make up about 36 per cent of the workforce in North America, said Cameron. 

“And over the next decade, they’re going to take over in terms of the largest population in the workforce... And a lot of what they value is a work-life balance,” he said.  “They want to be able to have more of a flex work environment.”

When employees are given appropriate flexibility, it allows them to continue to deliver great results, but they’re often able to manage and balance competing work and family priorities, said Genevieve Coleman, managing principal at Korn Ferry Hay Group in Waltham, MA. 

“One thing we often talk about is work-life integration, so they’re able to do their job, do it well, and manage whatever it is that they need to manage that’s going to take their attention away from their work,” she said. 

“It can create higher levels of engagement, loyalty and commitment to an organization. In some cases too, it even can help with productivity and performance because it’s less about where work gets done or when work gets done.
“It’s never a question of the work not getting done.”

Employer hesitation
But there’s still no shortage of hesitation on employers’ part, said Coleman. And that hesitation can be categorized in one of two ways. 

“Either leaders or managers think the results are going to suffer or, two, it’s going to be more challenging to manage a team that has flexibility in their schedule. Now, that’s certainly not the case, but that’s sometimes why we’ve seen the hesitation,” she said. 

Appropriate flexibility is dependent on business requirements, of course. And there are certain personality types — or profile types — that don’t feel all that comfortable with flex work, said Cameron. 

“They actually prefer to have some very well-defined structure — rules and regulations and processes to follow that are very consistent because it helps them feel like they’re doing the right thing, they’re doing a good job. Without that, they feel a little lost and unsure what the right way to go is,” he said.  “One of the challenges is… some of them will thrive in a flexible work environment, and others will find it very difficult.”

Another challenge is how to create work environments that provide both flexibility and structure and guidelines, to meet people’s preferences.

“Maybe that’s the definition of flexible — it’s not always work flexibility for everyone, it’s flexible in that it could be either-or: structured and well-defined, or variable, depending on who the people are that you’re working with,” said Cameron. “The closer you get to manufacturing or production (sectors), that’s harder, because people feel like you can’t allow flexibility because how’s the work going to get done? So it’s being creative. A flexible work arrangement, there’s lots of ways to make that happen,” she said. 

“When you’re in more of a manufacturing 24-7 environment or there’s shift work, those are the places where you have to be just a little bit more creative.”

It’s helpful to go back to understanding your workforce, according to Cameron. 

“What are we working with? Who is our workforce? What type of characteristics embody our workforce right down to the individual level? And then based on that insight, deriving some ways to structure it. And right on the heels of that, how are you going to manage it?” he said. 

“Flexible can mean a lot of things — it could be flex hours, it could be working from home, it could be working at a distance, it could be a lot of different things. So how do you actually manage people under those situations? That’s a challenge as well. It could mean that even management has to work in more of a flex work environment because they may need to be providing someone with coaching, management, feedback at eight o’clock at night or over Skype.”

Management support

One of the things that can make or break flexible work arrangements work is the level of support that you have from line managers, said Coleman. 

“We know that in a lot of organizations that have flexible work arrangements, there’s some level of policy around it, but when it comes to the actual practice of managers approving it, supporting it, that’s where sometimes there can be a breakdown,” she said. 

“We’ve seen organizations that have great formal flexible work policies, but their managers don’t really understand it, or they’re not held accountable, or even the policy hasn’t been communicated well to managers. So ensuring that managers understand what the policy is, that it’s been communicated to them, they’ve been educated on it, and they feel like they have the support of the organization on how to interpret it and make it work within their respective areas of the business — that’s one of the key things.”

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