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Flexible Working and Retention: Even the Army’s getting In On It

The armed forces made headlines in the HR world this week when the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, launched his vision for recruitment and retention, Maximising Talent.

General Carter admitted he may be the “oldest dinosaur” in the Army, but if he can change his attitude to flexible working then others should too. The Army is an unlikely contender to grasp the concept of flexible working. Over the last few years the armed forces have suffered difficulties in restructuring. The reduction in full time, regular troops has meant that fewer personnel have to be able to do more. Officers and senior NCOs need to understand the intricacies of local political situations to decide when to order troops to open fire. They also need to be able to adapt across to intense, high-tempo warfare at a moment’s notice. Making up the numbers through reservists has so far been ineffective and public sector redundancies and pay freezes has made the armed forces less of an attractive career option.

General Carter has bitten the bullet (no pun intended) and launched a campaign to find ways of attracting more army recruits. His suggested career structure allows those who want to serve a full career in the forces to do so, which means flexibility, a greater focus on part-time service and, more controversially, approaching the subject of women in front-line close combat roles. In units that “don’t require people to be on parade at 8.15 in the morning,” flexible hours to fit around childcare arrangements could well be an option.

The General suggested that this approach could increase productivity, a far cry from the army’s inflexible past. It also implies a focus on retaining talent, rather than the usual adverts framing the Army as an early career starter where people can learn great skills for five years and then move on.

If you want to recruit and retain the right people, consider making working patterns attractive. Often SMEs can be more flexible than larger firms because they’re small, flatter in management hierarchy and have more dynamic decision making processes. As long as a manager follows a fair process in agreeing flexible working, this can work very well.

There will always be organisations that cannot operate flexibly; many people in the armed forces will not be able to benefit from General Carter’s vision. But it is a noticeable milestone in society’s evolution towards greater flexibility, and as more firms embrace that culture the market for employees could become a lot more competitive.

Join us on our Introduction to Employment Law workshop on 15/16 September. Book on or before August 28th for a 20% discount.

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