Today I am bringing forth another perspective on work, life and flexibility. Beth Carvin, the CEO of Nobscot Corporation, was involved in the original discussion on this topic last October. I knew she would give us something to help us understand what is on the minds of business leaders.
When I started this Leader’s series, I was not sure if there would be agreement or disagreement. Here is what I am seeing emerge:
- As much as we may want to ignore it, or pretend it doesn’t matter, flexibility in one form or another is on the mind of many employees and leaders.
- It is not necessarily a generational difference but seems to be based more on the phase of life someone is in.
- Regardless of what we call it; integration, unity, juggle, balance, etc., it all comes down to the fact that different people need varying amounts of flexibility in their life depending on their family and other commitments.
So, please check out Beth’s perspective then use the comments to start a discussion. Here’s Beth…
Many CEOs and business owners are boggled and bothered by the whole idea of workplace flexibility and work-family balance. Boggled because there’s nothing they would rather do than work and bothered because they are paying employees in exchange for their time Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm.
Yet the workplace is transforming before our eyes. Our employees today are dual-working parents, have special needs children, care for elderly parents, pursue their passions, perform community service, participate in outside interests, network with others, continue their education and dabble with new technology. They have work-at-home offices and use mobile technology that’s more powerful than many of our desktop computers. All of this requires us to re-think our ideas on workplace flexibility.
As the CEO of Nobscot Corporation, it has taken me a long time to get comfortable with flexibility and yet I see it working in our organization every day. Like with all new initiatives, there are pros and cons.
The following are 10 points to think about as you work to implement a flexibility policy for your organization that will benefit both the employees and the company.
1. Life happens. Many of us are still in the mindset that life needs to happen before 8, after 5 and on weekends. We expect people to schedule their lives and make arrangements accordingly. We have always done that so why can’t they? Unfortunately (or fortunately?), it doesn’t work that way anymore. Today, the majority of couples are both dual-earners with full-time work responsibilities. This doesn’t leave anyone to handle the daily requirements of life, never mind the unexpected surprises that happen.
2. Flexibility and Structure are not mutually exclusive. Most people are more productive when there is some structure to their workday. It’s much easier for employees to focus and accomplish goals when they know exactly what they should be working on and when. Some workplace flexibility proponents would have you believe that total freedom is required. This is a mistake. You can and should provide flexibility while still maintaining some structure to the workday or work week. If you provide too much freedom you are doing a disservice to your employees.
3. Flexibility only works when employees have a good work ethic and a commitment to the success of the organization. This means two things. First, recruiting for a flexible work environment requires seeking out employees with a natural tendency to perform their very best at everything they do. Second, it’s incumbent on you to create a cohesive environment where employees identify with the organization and benefit (either psychologically or monetarily) from the success of the company.
4. Flexibility and Goofing-off are not synonymous. Allowing employees flexibility to blend their work-life with their home-life or to take off time during the day for personal or family pursuits should not give employees a license to goof-off. Some might argue that if employees are allowed to work their own schedule they should be able to goof-off all they want as long as they get their work done. This sounds reasonable in theory but in reality our brains are limited in how much we can do in a day or week. If employees over extend themselves in goofing-off they will not have the same amount of energy and focus and creativity when they try to squeeze their work into their goof-off schedule.
5. Watch out for multi-tasking. This is one of the biggest challenges that managers face today. I don’t care what your employees tell you, the human mind is not capable of concentrating fully on more than one thing at a time. Yes, they can do more than one thing at a time but the quality of the work will suffer.
6. The weakest link in successful workplace flexibility is not employees, it’s supervisors. You absolutely can not introduce workplace flexibility, (particularly “results oriented work environments”) without re-training yourself and all supervisors on how to manage in this new environment. Traditional management is built around managing employees time and making sure they are working productively throughout the workday/week. In the flexible work environment, supervisors must manage the work itself. This is not as simple as it sounds.
For example, some flexibility advocates believe that if an employee accomplishes their week’s worth of work in one day, they should be able to have the rest of the week to themselves. The reality is that the supervisor is not giving the employee an appropriate amount of work.
7. Women, flexibility and corporate performance. Studies have shown that organizations with women in leadership positions outperform those without. Therefore it makes good sense for companies to make sure they are doing a good job of retaining, developing, mentoring and advancing women employees to the same degree as the male employees.
Work environments without flexibility disproportionately impact women. Even when both parents work, survey show that the majority of household and childcare responsibilities still fall on women. When we examine the results of exit interviews by gender, the satisfaction levels on workplace flexibility and balance are 96% of the time rated lower by women than by men. If we want to make our companies the best they can be, we need to be responsive to the needs of working women.
8. Dads want more involvement too. Today more than ever, our male employees are involved in the caring and parenting of the children. We shouldn’t assume that flexibility is only a women’s issue.
9. Keeping it fair. A big complaint that surfaces often in employee surveys from employees who do not have children or other home/family responsibilities is that others get flexibility while they don’t. Is it reasonable for a single employee to go to the movies for a couple of hours during the workday if their colleagues go to kid events during the day? This is an issue that needs to be addressed up front in order to make expectations clear.
10. Eliminate the impact on co-workers and clients. When adding flexibility into the workplace, employees need to understand the importance of using this benefit responsibly. Their personal schedule should in no way negatively impact their colleagues and clients. This is not a get-out-of-work free pass nor an excuse for missing/canceling important meetings. It should be made very clear to employees that flexibility at the expense of others will not and should not be tolerated.
Beth N. Carvin is CEO of Nobscot Corporation, a global technology firm that focuses on key areas of employee retention and development.