I had a wine with a friend a few weeks ago. She’d just resigned from her role with one of Australia’s leading banks to take up an exciting new role with another company. Her key driver for moving was lack of flexibility in her current environment vs. a range of flexible options promised by her new employer.

The disappointing thing was the CEO of the bank she was leaving had developed and rolled out a number of initiatives to help attract and retain top talent, with quotas related to hiring women, and people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, while the organisation advertised ‘workplace flexibility’ as part of their recruitment and retention strategy, its managers didn’t provide their teams with the working conditions that were promised.

How this played out for the female executive, was that her manager was constantly putting roadblocks in her way when she needed to work from home, or leave to pick up her children from care. While her performance and reputation both internally and externally was exceptional, she had to face stigma and judgment from her manager on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t rare in the Australian market. Employees opt out rather than risk their careers by complaining, and CEOs never understand why turnover is so high.

pac executive’s 2015 Workplace Productivity Survey found that 45% of people struggle to achieve work/life balance. The 2014 Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) indicated that only 20% of the Australian workforce had requested flexible work arrangements in the previous year. Around 52% of the 2,690 working Australians surveyed indicated they would prefer to work fewer hours. Clearly, there is reluctance from Australians to request the flexibility they’d like.

Australian CEOs need to look more closely at the realities of how flexible work practices are implemented internally. Here are 3 tips to ensure success: 

1. Build an execution strategy

Flexible work policies are expected as a given these days rather than a differentiator. However, the true test comes in the execution. Policies that are set at ‘manager discretion’ allow for broad variances in interpretation across an organisation, and create inequities. Your execution strategy should include leadership training, continual feedback from employees, and HR reporting.

2. Mainstreaming

CEOs can implement successful flexible work practices by ‘mainstreaming’ workplace flexibility. Encourage senior employees to take up flexible work options and remove the stigma attributed to these employee benefits.

I coached a 50-year old male executive last year who wanted to work a 9-day fortnight, without sacrificing his performance. He wanted to bring in more revenue for the company while working fewer hours.

He achieved it by changing a few simple habits and working with his company to access the flexible benefits on offer. He purchased lifestyle leave, and applied the leave as 1 day off per fortnight over 52 weeks. By doing this, he maintained the same total fixed remuneration, thus his bonus was still calculated based on a full-time salary.

In this instance the company won, and the executive won. 

3. Flexibility looks different to different people

We recently heard from a gentleman at a leading Australian bank that his manager doesn’t allow any men in his team to grow facial hair.  When we think about flexibility in 2016, few of us recognise this may also include such decisions as whether one can wear a well-groomed beard.

Appropriate execution of flexible work practices can improve an organisation’s ability to retain and attract top talent, and improve diversity and inclusiveness across the enterprise. Measure results via your engagement scores, average turnover and turnover of top talent, time to fill vacancies, and revenue results.

Cultural and engagement surveys are amongst the best tools to ensure employee needs are being met.