Employers often ask me if my workplace flexibility strategies really work and tell me they already offer employees a satisfactory work-life mix. In fact, 67 percent of human resources professionals surveyed in the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study believe their employees have a “balanced work-life.” But when you ask employees, you hear a different story. Recent research shows that employees struggle to find the right work-life balance, with more than two-thirds of today’s U.S. workers struggling to balance their personal and professional lives.
Why the disconnect?
A recent Fast Company article shared several theories as to why there’s such a big gap between beliefs and reality:
- Workaholic cultures. Thanks to those amazing little pieces of technology we now hold in our hands, the line dividing home and work has all but vanished. In the Workplace Flexibility Study, 65 percent of employees say that their managers expect them to be on call — even when they’re officially “off the clock.”
- Lingering fears created by the recession and long-term unemployment. Afraid of losing a big deal or falling short of customer expectations, employers have put greater pressure on their teams to work harder and longer. At the same time, employees have put greater pressure on themselves — afraid that if they’re not always available for work, they may lose their jobs.
- HR may be insulated from employees’ daily work reality. In most organizations, HR professionals aren’t directly serving external customers’ needs and therefore may not experience the same pressure to meet those customers’ expectations. As a result, flexibility strategies that look good on paper may fall short and not yield the desired benefits.
So here’s the million-dollar question: Are your flex-work strategies on target, or are you missing the mark?
To hit the mark and achieve the desired organizational benefits — happy, fulfilled and loyal employees who work hard for you — you must design strategies that are:
On target. Make sure that your flexibility offerings are in line with what today’s (and tomorrow’s) professionals want:
- Survey. Conduct an anonymous employee survey to understand what flexibility really means to them, and to determine the value of current and/or proposed flex-work options.
- Research. Do some research to understand the mindsets and priorities of candidates you want to recruit. Knowledge workers’ expectations are different from sales professionals’; Generations X, Y and Z have distinct value systems that affect their views on flexibility.
- Post questions about flex-work options in relevant industry forums. You may get candid, first-hand insights that help you better align your offerings with employees’ and candidates’ needs.
Leverage existing research. While every organization and its employees are unique, studies show that flexible schedules and telecommuting options are important to today’s professionals:
- According to the PGi Telework Week Survey 2014, 80 percent of employees consider working from home at least part-time as a job perk, and 59 percent of employees believe the freedom to telecommute at least part-time is ideal.
- Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of working adults cite flexibility as a top consideration when seeking a new job — so much so that, according to the Mom Corps Bi-annual Workplace Survey, 45 percent of them are willing to give up a portion of their salary for more workplace flexibility.
Achievable. Adjusting your flexibility strategy is a monumental undertaking; lasting change takes consistent, sustained effort. To ensure you achieve your goals:
- Start small. Rather than attempting a major overhaul, focus on implementing one change at a time.
- Obtain buy in. Midlevel and senior-level managers may resist flexible work arrangements, citing valid concerns about policy abuse, client/customer reactions and difficulty managing both programs and participants. To overcome this resistance and realize your goals, describe all of the ways your company and its employees stand to benefit from enhanced flexibility.
- Address operational and legal concerns. Quite honestly, it’s tougher to incorporate flexibility in some jobs than in others. Furthermore, labor laws and regulations deter employers from implementing more flexible work strategies. Don’t let these barriers derail your efforts. Discuss concerns and roadblocks with legal counsel and senior decision-makers to identify the best flex work options for your organization.
Sustainable. To create lasting improvements in work-life flexibility for your employees:
- Build strategies in support of goals. Make sure your flex strategies complement — and don’t compete with — your overarching corporate goals.
- Make flexibility a part of your culture. Include work flex as one of your organization’s core values. Build more flexibility into the fabric of your everyday operations. Discuss employees’ ability to achieve a healthy work-life mix in every performance review. Promote your flexibility initiatives as central components of your employer brand. Bottom line, don’t just “walk the walk” — live it out!
Lead by example. Your employees take their cues from you. If you regularly log more than 70 hours a week, your team will feel pressured to do the same. Even if 9-to-5 is not realistic, show your team that you value work-life flex by demonstrably making it a priority for yourself.