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Family-friendly working means work flexibility

Family-friendly working means work flexibility

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National Flex Day, celebrated the third Tuesday of October (October 20th this year), is designed to raise awareness of the many benefits of flexible work for employees, their families, and employers alike. This year, Flex Day may be more important than ever as we all come to reimagine work-life balance in our new normal.

Working from home during COVID-19

So, why would an employer support National Flex Day when so many office employees are currently working from home due to COVID-19 or have recently returned to the office? I’m glad you asked!

Broad-brush work-from-home-arrangements are not the only appropriate response for true work flexibility for all workers. Our current COVID-19 environment highlights this fact as working parents are balancing in-home child care due to daycare and school closures, and people are trying to work or learn in the kitchen, in bedrooms, and even in garages.

Work output

In fact, JPMorgan Chase & Co. shared that most of their employees moved to work-from-home arrangements for safety reasons, resulting in overall reduced work output for all employees, especially on Mondays and Fridays. JPMorgan Chase cited additional concern that the compulsory work-from-home environment negatively impacted younger workers, and stunted creativity and organic interaction between colleagues. While this experience of reduced productivity seems to refute the results of earlier surveys which showed that U.S. employees working from home during the pandemic were working an estimated three hours more each day – more than any other country – it does confirm the early concerns that the excessive hours and sub-optimal work-from-home conditions would eventually lead to burnout and lower productivity.

Not a failure, but there are lessons

Bottom line, we cannot consider mandatory work-from-home lockdowns and COVID-reactive working arrangements as an example of the overall defects of flexible work arrangements and work-from-home failure. We should, however, learn from the lessons of this unexpected exercise and leverage these lessons to inform how to structure successful ‘flexible working’, including the use of tools that support collaboration and creativity amongst remote work teams.

Flexible working =  agile working 

The concept of flexible working applies not only to office workers but to every job in all industries. The broad meaning behind flexible working is a more agile concept of work as it relates to personal need.

Flexible working approaches include looking at jobs that are traditionally inflexible, like shift work, retail, field work, and call centers. Due to the inflexible nature and punitive attendance policies associated with these types of jobs, employees often invoke job-protected leave, such as FMLA, when a personal matter requires flexibility. Employers may reduce incidental absence by collaborating with employees to create flexible work teams and change the current dynamic.

The most common types of flexible work arrangements include:

  • Flexible arrival and departure times
  • Full-time work from home, partial work from home
  • Flexible work location, or work from anywhere at any time
  • Choice and input on work shifts; shift sharing
  • Compressed shifts or workweeks

The right kind of flexibility

This is not to be confused with work flexibility that is made available by an employer in response to a disability or other accommodation. This is instead about promoting a flexible work culture in support of the various needs of employees when they need flexibility, whether that flexible work arrangement be for a week, a month, or for years. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Joe needs to start his workday at 10 am in order to drop Suze off at her new school which is now 45 minutes away due to Suze’s typical school being temporarily or permanently closed. Joe works through lunch to make up the hour and can pick up Suze at the end of his typical eight-hour day. Joe’s employer agrees to make this flexible work arrangement permanent for as long as it makes sense for Joe and does not impact his project deliverables. This flexibility means a lot to Joe and his family and illustrates the trust and value his company places on Joe, which in turn supports Joe’s level of engagement and loyalty.
  • Sarah is high-energy, wildly creative, and her advertising work can be done remotely. Sarah loves to travel, and because her work is national, she has friends in nearly every state. For Sarah, being able to work from any location keeps her creative juices flowing and supports her desire for new experiences. Sarah knows how lucky she is to have this level of flexibility at work and she makes sure to exceed goals and expectations each year.
  • Let’s not forget Manuel. He’s the EVP of a finance company with more than thirty years of service. He now works four ten-hour days so he and his newly retired wife can enjoy long weekends together. He can’t wait for retirement!

It’s all about offering the right type of flexible work arrangement while maintaining and enhancing employee productivity and engagement.

So, what are most employers doing?

Employer responses to WorldatWork’s workplace flexibility poll provides some insight. The majority (86%) of companies surveyed offer occasional remote working (or telework), while reduced work schedules, ad hoc telework, and flex time were all offered by three-quarters of those polled. About half offer shift flexibility, while only 10% provided job sharing as a flexible work option.

How and where does an employer begin?

Start by celebrating National Flex Day and offering a flexible work schedule for employees on that day or within the week. After all, couldn’t we all use a little good will right now?

This isn’t a day of not working, it’s a day of working in a way that gives each employee a say about how work is completed in partnership with their manager, which concurrently preserves productivity. Then, over time, as trust is built between employees, managers, and employers, more flexibility can be considered – for all employees in all job types.

Employer considerations

As an employer considers ‘flexible working’ there are key areas of preparation needed to support the success of the program.

  • Make sure policies, such as attendance policies and teleworking policies, are clearly defined.
  • Create tools to facilitate conversations about appropriate flexible options based on job roles.
  • Ensure flexible working expectations are agreed upon by all parties (employee, manager, employer), are in writing, and are linked to performance goals.
  • Provide guidelines and tools for managers to ensure customers and colleagues are supported when an employee is working a flexible arrangement.
  • Ensure employees have the necessary technology and access in place to be productive and ensure data security when working remotely, whether from home or a flexible location.

Most importantly, it’s critical to foster a corporate culture of flexible working across the organization from the top. When leaders set a strong example and support various types of flexible work arrangements, managers are more likely to embrace flexible working and employees are more likely to feel supported when requesting it.

Flexibility is a win-win

A recent study conducted by Manpower Group Solutions, and supported by several other surveys and reports, showed that nearly 40% of job candidates worldwide cited schedule flexibility as one of the top three factors in choosing their next employer. By not offering workplace flexibility, an employer may inadvertently turn away top talent.

Additionally, while we won’t address the current caregiver crisis in this post, the importance of work flexibility for working caregivers is paramount. Eighty percent of employees stated their productivity was affected by care-giving responsibilities, and 32% of voluntary employee turnover was due to caregiver responsibilities, says a Harvard Business School report. Consider the savings for all involved if employees didn’t have to make a choice between work and family.

Lastly, CHUBB’s research regarding Americans working from home during COVID–19 reveals that after the pandemic subsides, 74% of employees who can, want to spend more time working from home. Again, when planned and structured well, pre-pandemic studies found remote workers were just as efficient as those in offices. It takes deliberate planning to ensure success.

We all know that engaged employees are happier, healthier, and more productive employees. For organizations on the fence about increasing flexibility in the workplace, consider the positive impact of work flexibility on employee engagement, retention, and the attraction of top talent. National Flex Day can help open discussions about what flexible working could look like for your organization.

True family-friendly work cultures and work-life integration—imagine the possibilities!

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