Okay, Flex is Important, But How Do You Do It?

I am often asked, “Where are companies in terms of work-life flexibility?” My answer is that unlike even five years ago, most companies at least understand that it’s important to offer some kind of flexibility to help employees manage their work and life. However, they have no idea how to operationalize it as part of the day-to-day management of their business.

The same holds true for individuals. Even three years ago, when my book first came out, most people really had no idea that they needed to use flexibility as a strategic tool to manage their “fit” in response to personal and professional transitions. Today, awareness is up. But like their organizational partners, employees have no idea how to operationalize flexibility into their lives.

I recently found quantitative proof of this disconnect in a survey completed by members of the International Association of Contract and Commercial Management (IACCM) prior to an Ask the Expert session I conducted for them. Here’s a snapshot of the survey respondents:
• 47% worked in organizations with more than 50,000 employees, and 29% in organizations with between 1,001 to 10,000 employees
• 66% of respondents represented the Americas, and 23% Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

The findings were as follows:

Flexibility is important, personally and organizationally

Personally, 72% of respondents agreed that flexibility would help them manage their workload more effectively, and 81% said it would increase their job satisfaction

• 78% of respondents said workplace flex will be either a very important or important part of future growth and profit for their organization.
• 72% of respondents said that their organizations had an existing flexibility strategy
• Of those companies with a flexibility strategy, 38% said that strategy was based on a partnership between the manager and employee, and 33% said it was a case by case accommodation for certain individuals
• 63% of respondents said the individual employee in their company is responsible for initiating flexibility

No one—managers, employees, or HR—knows “how” to do it

Here’s where the findings got really interesting. Only 12% of respondents said the managers, employees and HR in their organizations were trained to effectively play their respective roles in operationalizing flexibility. Wow! That’s a 60% gap between the 72% of individuals and 78% of organizations that think flexibility is important, and the 12% who are trained to make it a successful reality.

The good news is the recognition that flexibility is important. That’s the first step. But we have a long way to go to close that 60% “how to” implementation gap. Therefore, professional organizations like the IACCM should be congratulated for providing the “how to” information for both the individuals and organizations, to its members. It’s a perfect venue for sharing strategies and best practices among peers with similar types of jobs.

What’s your experience? Are you part of a professional organization that’s offered you strategies to make flexibility a successful reality, personally or as a manager? I’d love to hear what professional organizations are doing to try to close that “flexibility” gap, and hopefully inspire others to do more.