Flexibility in the workplace is imperative. It should be seen as a result-based business strategy—not a benefit.
With the variety of employee demographics now in our workforce, the importance of workplace flexibility becomes even clearer. For instance, millennials prefer flexible working arrangements and consider them in accepting employment. But boomers need flexible options as they take on care of their aging parents.
Implementing work-flex programs doesn’t have to be burden. Arrangements can be informal—individuals and teams can be offered occasional, day-to-day accommodations, in accordance with changing business, customer, or personal needs. Or, the programs can be more formal and focused on individuals, offering on-going and long-term changes in work location and scheduling.
In either case, expect change to be gradual. At the recent World at Work Total Rewards conference in San Diego, I heard a presentation about the “six stages of the flexibility spectrum.” They are:
- No flexible work options
- Special "deals" granted on a case-by-case basis, often kept private
- Policies and programs exist, but flexibility only practiced in "pockets" across the organization
- Widespread use of formal and informal flexibility programs
- A results-driven culture where flexible work practices are used as a management strategy to achieve business results
Why Flex Options Should Be Considered
In addition to the types of generational preferences cited earlier, workplace culture can be the imperative behind implementing work-flex programs.
For instance, flex should be the norm for any employer that has or aspires to have a workplace that sounds like this: results are more important than where and when they’re achieved; business can be conducted anywhere or at any time; keeping nimble and agile is important; and using work-life balance to keep employees connected and engaged is vital.
A flexible results-driven culture helps attract, retain and motivate employees to accomplish the goals and vision of the organization. It fuels loyalty, engagement, and productivity by allowing the workforce more control in managing their work and personal lives.
Some still tend to think of flex options as a “benefit” or entitlement. They see flexibility requests as excuses to “slack off,” leading to lower quality, productivity or customer service standards.
But, a recent study by Bain & Co., a management consulting company, found that flex arrangements are one of the best ways to increase employee satisfaction and retention—improving retention by up to 40 percent among women, and 25 percent among men. Of the women polled, 87 percent said they’d be interested in using flexible work options. One of the most popular choices is scheduling that allows for telecommuting, paid leave and adjustable hours.
Interestingly, however, of the 60 percent of companies that offer flexible scheduling, only 17 percent report that it is widely utilized by employees. Perhaps just knowing the option is there if needed is enough to drive satisfaction.
Whether that’s true or not, we need to start offering employees customized flexibility programs. Work-flex is too important as a recruiting and retention tool to be relegated to cookie-cutter options.