Work+Life Flex in the Recession: Core Business Strategy, Not Unaffordable “Perk” (My guest blog for the Sloan Work and Family Research Network)

These are indeed interesting times.  Should we even talk about work life flexibility as we move into what looks like a deep and long recession?  Is it relevant?  Not only should we continue talking about work life flexibility, but we must recognize that it’s more relevant today than it was even six months ago.

Flexibility in where, when and how work is done is a strategic lever that can help leaders and employees adapt in the face of change.  It also achieves a broad-range of bottom line impacts that are critical not only to surviving but thriving during the current economic downturn, and beyond.

Unfortunately, the response I’m hearing from leaders in this environment is not that work life flexibility is a powerful strategy in their tool kit to address business challenges.  Most see it as a “perk” or nice thing to do in good times, but something they perhaps can no longer afford.

This “informal perk” mindset is not surprising given our findings in the CFO Perceptions of Work Life Flexibility study, a survey that Work life Fit, Inc. recently co-sponsored with BDO Seidman, a national professional services firm.  This survey of a random sample of the country’s top 100 CFOs tested their perceptions of work life flexibility.  Good news:  a majority of CFOs recognized a broad range of potential bottom line impacts that flexibility could achieve, including recruitment and retention; improved employee productivity; differentiation from competitors; minimizing environmental impact and reducing health care cost.

The bad news is that only 13 out of the 100 had a formal approach to flexibility in place and had a senior leadership team that perceived it to be a strategy for managing work, resources and talent.  In other words, only 13% of the CFOs worked for organizations with the leadership understanding and organizational infrastructure to translate that awareness into action for bottom line results.  The remaining 87 CFOs, or 87%, had no formal approach to flexibility in place and/or had a leadership team that saw flexibility as an informal “perk.”  Not a powerful recipe for seeing and executing flexibility as a strategic lever.

While this “it’s a perk we can’t afford right now,” reaction isn’t surprising, it’s the wrong response to flexibility at the wrong time.  Again, the business challenges presented by the recession provide an important opportunity to, once and for all, position or rebrand work life flexibility for what it is…it’s not a benefit, program or perk. It’s a core business strategy with broad applications and impacts.   How do we take advantage of this moment in time?  Raise awareness.

Flexibly rethinking the way work is done, how life is managed, and business is run addresses many challenges facing organizations in a world where rapid change is the only constant.  The innovative use of telecommuting, flexible scheduling, reduced hours, compressed workweeks, and contract workers is an effective way to achieve diverse business outcomes, some of which are shown in the graphic below:   (Click here for more…)

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