Federal and Local regulations are increasingly requiring companies to provide time off for employees to attend to their physical and mental health needs, the needs of family members, or the birth or adoption of a child. Beyond these requirements, young professionals value work flexibility when considering where and how they work. “Work-life balance” is often at the forefront of millennials’ minds.
Related Article: NYC Employers: Updates Required to Paid Sick Leave Policy
As employees’ responsibilities are increasingly untethered to a physical office space, how do employers provide structured flexibility to their employees to align with company values, without breaking the bank?
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Flexible Working is the New Norm
We’ve all been there — scheduling a two hour “dentist appointment” on our calendar, which in reality is a long overdue haircut. Given your hairdresser closes at the same time as your office, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place: do you tell your company and risk them denying your request, or worse, assuming you don’t take your job seriously? Or, do you forego a much needed opportunity for self care?
As an employer, it is important to assuage these potential employee concerns by answering these questions proactively and deciding your company’s approach to work flexibility. There are a lot of factors that go into this decision, so we’ve outlined 5 questions you can ask yourself when thinking this through:
1. Why are flexible working policies desired?
In an age when a business can be run from a laptop and a wifi connection, the necessity of a physical office space is rapidly declining. Companies across industries are rapidly hopping on the flexible-work train. The percent of employers who allow some type of work-from-home flexibility for at least some of their employees increased from 34% in 2005 to 63% in 2016, according to the New York Times.
So why are companies from Apple to Amazon encouraging employees to determine their own schedules? Flexible working policies have been proven to increase overall employee happiness and job satisfaction, and in turn, their loyalty to the organization. In his 2009 book “Drive,” Daniel Pink writes that across the globe, researchers have found a link between autonomy and an individual’s overall sense of well-being, performance, and attitude. A significant contributor to an employee’s sense of autonomy is their control over when and where they do what they do.
2. Just how flexible should I be?
“Flexibility” is a blanket term that can take many forms, and should be molded to fit what makes the most sense for your company and the needs of your employees. It’s important to consider the organizational limitations of your business, on the company and individual level, to determine the type and degree of flexibility you’re able to allow while still accomplishing your business objectives.
Certain employees (high level creatives, engineers) may be able to more easily dictate their schedules than shift-based employees. Conversely, some employees may be able to more easily dictate where they work, depending on the resources they require to complete their work (e.g. specialized equipment or a second monitor). Some external programs, like Remote Year, take work flexibility to the extreme, setting up structured year-long global excursions for groups of young professionals to travel together while working their existing jobs remotely.
Related Article: Inside Justworks’ Flexible Work Experiment: Work From Anywhere Week
3. Do I need a formal flexible work policy?
There are a few ways that utilizing quantified guidelines can impact the adoption of your company’s flexible working policy, and these can differ based on your goals for the policy. Instituting a required minimum number of work-from-home days can help make employees feel more comfortable taking these days, if your flexible work culture is in its infancy.
On the other end of the spectrum, regimenting employee’s flexibility too strictly by quantifying the amount of time each employee is able to work flexibly (e.g. come in an hour late, stay an hour late) may prove counterproductive as it removes employees’ sense of autonomy over their own results.
Ultimately, it’s important to set clear and transparent expectations with employees regarding how their work will be measured, and how this informs your company’s work flexibility policy. If employees know what is expected of them, they should feel no guilt making that midday haircut appointment.
4. Are approvals required to use the policy?
While requiring employees to seek manager approval before work flexibility is granted may allow managers to have tighter control over their team, it may also discourage team members from utilizing the policy. While business need may necessitate a “heads up” to a manager, denying an employee’s request for a flexible working day sets the tone for company culture. Flexible work then becomes a perk, as opposed to an exercise in workplace autonomy.
Akin to the potential pitfalls of offering unlimited paid time-off, just because a policy is offered to employees does not mean they will feel comfortable taking it. The same New York Times article cited above found that despite 96% of respondents confirming that their company offers a work flexibility policy, only 56% felt support form their company in exercising said policy. To ensure that a flexible working policy is adopted and thus effective, the mantra must be woven into the fabric of an organization’s culture.
Individuals value different aspects of work autonomy, so its important for managers to determine directly with their reports what is valuable to each individual. Consider allowing or encouraging managers to check in on their reports’ holistic well-being and acknowledge the demands outside the workplace. Get senior leaders in the organization to lead by example, share their personal flexible work success stories, and highlight these successes in a company newsletter, message board, or meeting.
5. Does the policy support collaboration?
Leverage technology to create a way for employees to easily see who is currently on- or offline. This could be procedural within an existing system (e.g. requiring employees to put up an away message on Slack if they are unreachable during business hours) or utilize an entirely new system (e.g. hooking up your company’s key fobs to a dashboard which displays who is currently in the office). Staying connected can ensure that employees have both autonomy and accountability, both of which are critical to ensuring productivity and maximizing employee motivation.