Bloomberg recently published an article touting the benefits of “Summer Fridays” - “It’s a cheap and easy way to keep employees happy, since no one is really working then anyway.” Workplace flexibility - like the ability to head to the beach instead of to the office on a hot summer Friday - is one way companies are competing to attract top talent.
And, they are on to something - flexible work schedules are becoming more important not just for attracting, but also for keeping Millennials and women engaged and productive. According to a Gallup study, flexible work schedules result in higher levels of well-being and employee engagement.
But, there is still quite a bit of resistance from some leaders on this topic. According to Gallup, "Maybe that’s because they don’t trust their employees with greater autonomy. Or maybe they see the value of flexibility but worry that giving employees more choices about when and how they work is unrealistic for their organizational and customer needs.” Those are certainly reasonable concerns, and it is very true that the degree of flexibility you can offer in your company does depend on your industry and the types of jobs you employ. In any case, Gallup offered some recommendations for leaders who want to make their work cultures more flexible.
7 Ways to Create a More Flexible Work Culture
- 1. Clarify expectations up front: Flexible work arrangements only work when you are clear about expectations, accountability, and rewards for high performance. "Make sure they know what measures you are using to evaluate them. Reward outstanding performance for metrics other than the number of hours they work.” Having Job Scorecards with clear desired results and key responsibilities for each person on the team will help you start out on the right foot.
- 2. Be reasonable about work hours: "Provided it does not interfere with meeting the requirements of their job, allow employees the freedom to arrive at — and leave — work when they need to.” This could look different for every company. Maybe you institute a 10 or 15 minute grace period before writing someone up as late, maybe you allow employees with long commutes to start their work day at home and come into the office after rush hour traffic has died down, or maybe you allow employees to set their own start and end times that are earlier or later than others. For me, having the flexibility to come in a half hour earlier and leave a half hour earlier is the only thing that lets me pick my daughter up from daycare on time, saving my sanity!
- 3. Create flexibility where you can: For some positions, employees just don’t have the option to choose their hours or to work from home - some jobs require you to be there in person for your customers, team, or equipment. Even in those cases, leaders can work to create as much flexibility as possible; "one way to increase flexibility in more rigid roles is to stop requiring employees in these roles to take vacation time when they need to leave work for a couple of hours for a doctor’s appointment or when they need to leave early to attend a child’s sporting event.” Or, consider implementing policies that enable employees to make up missed time after hours (like if they have to leave early on a Friday afternoon, maybe they can come in on a Saturday or work a few extra hours before their normal shift the following week to make it up.) Chances are, there is some part of their job that they can do from home (answering emails, writing reports, handling administrative tasks), and you should be sure to count those hours, too.
- 4. Foster trust and transparency: One key to the success of flexible work arrangements is communication. Team members may believe others’ aren’t pulling their weight if they don’t see them sitting in the office 40 hours a week. Avoid feelings of resentment about so-and-so leaving early every day (when people don’t know so-and-so gets there early, too) by being clear and open about your guidelines and expectations for flexible work schedules. "Create an environment in which people feel comfortable using flextime or working from home. Listen for misunderstandings, and keep an open mind about team members’ different schedules.” One way to create this comfort is for you, as a leader, to model working on a flexible schedule.
- 5. Let managers own it: As a leader, you open the door for a flexible work culture, but managers are the ones who make or break its success for the team. In some cases, human resource departments are the ones who run the show when it comes to flexible work arrangements, but sometimes HR can be so focused on policies that they create unnecessary barriers. "Allow managers to make as many day-to-day decisions about their team members as possible. Managers are closest to the action. They can use overarching organizational values as a guide, but the company must empower them to make flexibility decisions for each of their employees.” Keep managers accountable to delivering the results you expect for their teams, but allow them to make decisions about how to deploy their resources.
- 6. Think outside the box: Offer options for employees who want to work more or less than the traditional 40 hour work week. The key here is once again to be clear about how reducing or increasing hours will impact the employee’s pay, benefits, responsibilities, and outcomes. "Establish clear expectations, and let people opt into the job they want with an understanding of what it takes to excel at that job. Set compensation to match outcomes — using hours only as a baseline.” In our company, we have a great example of someone who chose to work part-time when her children were young and who later became an extremely valuable full-time member of the team.
- 7. Don’t fear “open” vacation and time-off policies: If you’ve hired the right team who live your Core Values and believe in your company’s purpose, they aren’t in it to take advantage of generous vacation policies. “This type of policy is not a free-for-all. The majority of employees will take time off based on their deadlines and workload — and to recharge when they need to.” Your employees still have to ensure their work is covered and meet all the outcomes you’ve established for their position. Managers who set clear expectations and follow up on expected results have nothing to fear from a policy that allows employees to take the time they need.
Consider implementing some of the suggestions above to increase flexibility in your workplace. As a working parent, having the flexibility to run to daycare or last-minute doctor appointments gives me the peace of mind to be more productive when I am at work. And, my company has earned my loyalty as a result of the flexibility they’ve given me - I can’t imagine working anywhere else when I know that my manager here has my back as long as I continue to achieve results and fulfill my responsibilities. In my personal experience, it is a win-win for employees and the company!
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