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Workplace Flexibility: It’s Coming, Like It or Not

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By Tom Brennan, Master Writer

Human resources professionals take pride in having their finger on the pulse of employee concerns, but one study suggests they are missing a few beats. WorkplaceTrends.com’s 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study indicates that HR professionals overestimate employees’ work/life balance. The study, published in February, surveyed 1087 employees and 116 HR professionals.

About 67% of HR professionals believe their people are able to find an acceptable balance. However, 45% of the employees surveyed indicated that they are NOT able to balance the two effectively. Further, while 75% of employees ranked workplace flexibility as the most important benefit to them, only 50% of HR professionals believe that employees would put that at the top of their list.

I have to wonder if the results would be different if they had surveyed more than 116 HR people, but there is still an important issue here. Workplace flexibility is more than a passing phase, and it seems that HR is the group that needs to catch up. According to Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, “In the future, every company will have a flexibility program and those that don’t will lose the battle for the top talent.”

The disconnect does raise sore spots. For example, technology has made it possible for many people to do their job just about anywhere. It probably isn’t surprising to learn that 20% of employees reported that they spend more than 20 hours a week working outside the office, outside of normal work hours. This isn’t just taking home some contracts to review. In the survey, 65% of employees reported that their employer expects them to be available after hours by email or phone.

Yet the same companies that expect this extra work time are reluctant to implement flexibility programs. Ironic, since their people have already shown that working from home is viable. The top two reasons for their resistance are that employees might abuse the system, and that it’s not part of the company’s culture.

The first reason doesn’t stand up to the numbers. According to the study, HR professionals at companies that have flex programs see significant benefits from them. Some 87% said that it improves employee satisfaction, 71% said that it increases productivity, and 65% said it enhances retention. Other studies support this: a Stanford study of 13,000 employees found that those working from home were 12% more efficient than those in the office. Not only that, but home workers reported a 50% increase in job satisfaction. If this is abusing the system, most companies could use a little abuse!

The second reason is less a reason and more a step toward understanding a key factor in making flex programs work: culture. Flex programs are not plug’n’play. Companies WILL have to change their culture. That’s probably the real point of resistance, as culture change is no small task. But the risk/benefit analysis is compelling. One upside here: it won’t be a major battle to overcome resistance. Employees are vested in seeing flex programs succeed. For insights and practical advice, see Decision Toolbox CEO Kim Shepherd’s white paper, “Overcoming Virtualophobia.

The disconnect definitely suggests that more dialog between employees and HR/management is needed, at least to get everyone on the same page. From there, if the decision is to develop a program, leadership and employees both need to be involved. Again, management can channel employees’ vested motivation to move the process forward.

The report has good news as well, assuming you are in the flex program camp. For one thing, an increasing number of employers are investing in workplace flexibility programs. In addition to realizing the benefits mentioned above, they also leverage those programs as selling points in recruiting. I believe Dan Schawbel is right, but don’t wait for the future to make the workplace flexibility part of your company’s value proposition.

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2 Responses to “Workplace Flexibility: It’s Coming, Like It or Not”

  1. May 20, 2016 at 7:56 am, Janie Lunday said:

    I agree as a HR professional we need to start thinking about the future and what will be necessary to attract and retain talent.

    Reply

  2. August 31, 2016 at 7:55 am, Shawn Saulsberry said:

    I really appreciate the relevance of this article. I worked from home 100% of the time for 6 years. During that time my responsibilities increased and I received 2 promotions. Suddenly, I was not allowed to work from home and had to endure 90 minute commute to and from work. Not only that but all of my team were in another city so all of my communications were by phone still.

    My morale plummeted and I say the benefit of working from home being used as a strategy to reduce the size of the workforce. Well it worked! I took my talents elsewhere.

    All in all, it is sad that we as a society have not advanced with the advances in technology. It seems the benefit of working remotely was widely offered at one time but taken away because of abuse by a few as you mentioned earlier.

    What does it practically mean for the idea of working remotely not fitting into your “corporate culture”? When left to my own imagination I interpret it as saying, “We do not you will do your work if we are not watching you”, “We do not believe you can collaborate remotely”, “We do not trust you”, “We just don’t like it”

    It just seems so much talent is untapped because of concerns around working remotely. If that is not the issue, the potential of top talent is made null because of low morale or exhaustion from long commutes because one cannot work remotely.

    Reply

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