Thank you for tuning into HR Happy Hour and talking about the important topic of “Making Work/Life Work.” As promised, here is a list of ways HR professionals can get started today advancing strategic work+life flexibility in their organizations. Please add others you think are important and didn’t get a chance to share during the show. I look forward to continuing this important conversation with you!
Define what you believe work+life flexibility is. The answer will determine HR’s role and response. Is it a business strategy? Is it a “perk” reserved for good times? Or is it an annoying regulation to be tolerated and mitigated? Assuming you decide, yes, work+life flexibility is a strategic lever that we want to help integrate into the day-to-day operating model of the business, then…
Start to change the way you talk and think about flexibility because according to our the WLF/BDO study of top CFOs, only 13 out of 100 felt their senior leadership saw flexibility as a strategy (the rest saw it as a perk), and had the process in place to target flexibility toward a problem or opportunity.
At FSG, we talk about work+life flexibility, as opposed to workplace flexibility, because flexibility in how, when and where work is done won’t succeed if there isn’t corresponding flexibility in the way life is managed, and vice versa. So for example, a compressed workweek is only going to succeed for a parent that can flexibly move the pickup time at child care back. Or telecommuting only works if there’s the appropriate equipment and space to work remotely.
We also use the term work+life fit, not balance as one of the outcomes of strategic flexibility. By work+life fit, we mean actively and flexibly optimizing the way work fits into your life day-to-day and at major life and career transitions given your unique realities. Everyone has a work+life fit they need to manage, from the CEO to the temp worker. This normalize it throughout the culture.
Learn about what is already working and start to capture it. Success doesn’t require a complete overhaul of the way you do business. No, in fact, there’s often a great deal of flexibility already happening that you can start to capture and leverage. And chances are HR doesn’t know about most of these pockets of flex innovation because it’s usually just organically happening and might not even be called “flexibility.” The intuitively flexible manager and team probably think of it simply as “getting the job” done.
Gather internal and external data to support the need for flexibility. And to reinforce the business impact of the success stories you’ve identified internally. Here are links to some of my favorites (others below):
- Sloan Center for Aging and Work–Workplace Flexibility Across the Generations (highlights business impacts and the need for a “fit” between the business and the type of flexibility offered)
- National Study of the Changing Workforce by Families and Work Institute
- WorkShifting Benefits: The Bottom Line by Citrix/Telework Research Network
Find a senior line leader who will be the champion and public face of the flexibility strategy. As much as possible from the beginning, position the strategy as business led and sponsored effort with HR as a partner.
Link impacts of flexibility to the business as directly and broadly as possible. Keep pulling all of those links together and building buy-in and awareness. Find the “pain” points of opportunity or challenge within the business where being more flexible in how, when and where work is done and life is managed would make a big difference. Start to share and build the business case. Listen and join the conversation. For example,
- Is the administration group trying to figure out how to seed new markets without taking on office space until a presence is established? Telecommuting.
- Have revenue and earnings not rebounded as quickly as expected? Are conversations starting about more reductions? Furloughs, sabbaticals, reduced schedules.
- Are more and more of the company’s clients oversees requiring coverage outside of normal office hours? Flexible scheduling.
- Are levels of stress and overwork causing a spike in health care costs? Day-to-day flexibility to get to gym, leave early to see kids’ games etc.
- Are the investor and government relations groups struggling to complete the Corporate Social Responsibility/Environment and Social Governance Report for the SEC? Telecommuting.
- Can implementing a flexibility strategy in partnership with the technology group help improve utilization of what’s already being offered and identify gaps in tech resources that need to be filled?
Understand the common characteristics of successful work+life flexibility. Fifteen years of work with companies, leaders, and employees have shown us, time and again, that the best strategies have the following characteristics:
- They are NOT one-size-fits-all. They are tailored to the unique realities of the business and the people who work there. Those (sometimes tough) business realities must be acknowledged for the solutions proposed to have credibility and staying power.
- They are process, not policy-based which makes them flexible enough to adapt and evolve with the changing realities of the business and the people who work there.
- They are built on a strong employee-employer partnership, not from the top-down. The employer/manager creates the space within which innovative work+life solutions are crafted as part of the day-to-day operating model. And employees are prepared and know what they need to do to meet the company halfway. Most companies skip this important step.
- They achieve both business and individual personal objectives. The employer understands how to apply the same flexibility that helps individual employees manage their work+life fit to achieve other business objectives such as resource cost management (eg. labor, real estate, technology, and health care), global client service, sustainability, disaster preparedness, working better and smarter, etc.
Move beyond the five standard types formal flexible work arrangements. Again, it’s process, not policies. Include in the process the ability to officially change how, when and/or where you work for a period of time. Some people and the business will need a formal change, at some point in time. But, build the strategy primarily around day-to-day flexibility or small, periodic, none recurring shifts in work and life. Consider including in the flexibility toolkit any PTO and Leaves you offer. You are providing a whole continuum of flexible tools in one package.
Any job and any industry can embrace some form of flexibility but not every type of flexibility. A process-based approach lets you adapt the flexibility to the business, whereas “check the box,” one size fits all formal flexible work arrangements don’t. Flexibility is going to look different even within different businesses within the same company. Important: The consistency comes in the access to the same process not in the promise of the same type of flexibility.
Measure at all points. Adapt what you measure to where you are in the process and what you want to learn. An example is the case study of key metrics from our BDO Flex project. In the discovery phase we used quantitative and qualitative data to begin to identify what’s working and make links to the business. In the visioning phase, we tested how well people understood this shared vision. Then when we were building readiness of a key leadership group, we tested their buy-in. And finally in the orientation and review phases we measured the following buckets of outcomes at set intervals:
- Personal Work+Life Fit and Understanding of Flexibility
- Employee Engagement
- Work Effectiveness
- Business Impact
Nothing is EVER going to be perfect, and you are always going to have to continually tweak and improve your flexibility strategy. Some employees will not live up to their end of the bargain. If they don’t, then they don’t get flexibility. As a very wise executive once said to us, “Chances are it’s not the flex, it’s the employee and maybe they should be gone.” You will always have managers who won’t support it. They need to be coached and penalized in the reward system. But, at the end of the day, avoid the temptation to build a flexibility strategy geared toward the few who will abuse. Build it for the many who will thrive…they will.
Great Resources (No particular order):
- Sloan Center for Aging and Work at Boston College
- Psychologically Health Workplaces
- Alliance for Work-Life Progress/World at Work
- Families and Work Institute–When Work Works
- Sloan Work and Family Network
- Boston College Center for Work and Family
- Institute for Workplace Innovation
- Telework Research Institute/ Undress for Success