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SHRM, I’m Confused, Again…Do You See Flex as Strategic, Legislative or Both?

(More info below: Join me on Blog Talk Radio’s  “HR Happy Hour” with host Steve Boese 5/20 at 8 p.m. ET to discuss “Making Work/Life Work)

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), I’m confused…again.  Do you see work+life flexibility as strategic, legislative or both?

Does it matter that I’m confused?  Actually, it doesn’t.  But what does matter is that I’m beginning to understand why many HR professionals in the day-to-day trenches are confused about work+life flexibility. What it is?  Strategy, “perk,” or a regulation to be risk managed and mitigated?  What is their role? How do they advocate and execute work+life flexibility in their organizations?

These are important questions to help HR professionals answer, because, from my vantage point they are getting mixed, confusing messages from their primary industry association.  And, in the process, HR is missing a tremendous opportunity.

In this new economic reality, HR has access to a powerful, important lever for managing people and the business. It lets them pull up a chair to the table with line leadership to help solve many of the organization’s most pressing problems.  That strategic lever is work+life flexibility, or flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed.

If developed and implemented into the day-to-day operating model it can contain costs, manage resources (e.g. talent, real estate, technology), manage global clients with less burnout, reduce employee stress, increase innovation, prepare for disasters, improve the way work is done…and more. But first it needs to be seen and understood as a business strategy, not just an annoying legislative mandate to be tolerated, or “perk” reserved for good times.

My confusion over SHRM’s position began last December when I wrote a post sharing my surprise that flexibility was all but missing from the agenda of the its 2010 national conference.   Even though the conference description said they were going to focus on issues directly addressed by strategic work+life flexibility:

“This year’s conference is programmed to provide the most comprehensive line-up  of thought-leaders, practitioners, and executives to interact with you on some of the most critical issues facing HR professionals today, with topics covering such key issues are:

  • Talent Management and Staffing
  • Employee Engagement and Morale
  • Legislative Compliance
  • Communication Strategies
  • Layoffs, Downsizing and RIFs
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Business Competencies
  • Leadership/Career Development
  • Healthcare Strategy and Reform
  • Continuity Planning
  • Global HR”

Then in March,  I read the agenda for SHRM’s 2010 Employment Law & Legislative Conference.  Work+life issues were showcased prominently.  I thought I had my explanation.   SHRM believes work+life issues are addressed through mandate and public policy, not strategic change and integrating flexibility into the day-to-day operating model of a business.  That’s why it wasn’t on the national conference agenda.

But then, today, I read an article about SHRM’s recent efforts to “encourage, not mandate, workplace flexibility.” In three high profile work+life related events, the White House Flexibility Forum, its own co-sponsored panel on “The State of the Workforce in the New Economy,” and The New American Foundation’s panel on “The Future of Work-Life Balance and Workplace Flexibility,” SHRM representatives reinforced its position that:

Workplace flexibility is an issue that has gained importance with employers and employees…(Critically important to the discussion) is not to see it as just an issue for women or individuals with young children. It’s an issue that works its way through an individual’s life cycle…The employer needs flexibility to adapt its work/life options to its community and organization…Not every [workplace] environment always lends itself to the same type of approach. What may work in a manufacturing environment may not work in a hospital. What works in a union environment may not work in a nonunion environment.”

What?  So, here’s my question:  Does SHRM now believe that workplace flexibility is a process-based strategy, not a one-size-fits-all legislative mandate?

Can you see why if I’m confused, how the line HR professional might be unsure about what to think or how to proceed?   Are they to take a programmatic risk management and mitigation approach or partner with the business to initiate business-based change management process?  Or both?

Let’s continue this important conversation. Join me on Thursday, May 20 at 8:00 pm on Blog Talk Radio’s “HR Happy Hour” where I will talk with host Steve Boese about these questions and other issues related to “Making Work/Life Work.”  The show description and links are below.  Hope you will listen and contribute to this important subject.

“Making Work/Life Work” on HR Happy Hour with Steve Boese.

It is one thing to talk about workplace flexibility, and quite another to design and implement flexible working strategies in organizations, and to measure their effectiveness and impact on the bottom line.

Sure, most employees might prefer to work at home in their jammies, but does it make sense for the organization?

While most of us would agree that more flexibility in the design of jobs is desirable or ‘better’, often HR professionals have difficulty understanding how to design more flexible workplaces, to develop flexibility strategies that will work for the organization, and to even understand their important role in this area. Joining us will be Cali Yost, of the FlexStrategy Group and WorkLife Fit, Inc., writer at Fast Company, and an expert on workplace flexibility, to talk about how to move Work/Life from discussion to action, and how HR professionals can be better equipped to lead and support these important initiatives in their organizations.

I hope you can join us for what should be an interesting and informative show where we try and take the Work/Life discussion beyond ‘should’ and get closer to ‘how‘.


4 thoughts on “SHRM, I’m Confused, Again…Do You See Flex as Strategic, Legislative or Both?

  1. First let me thank you for your comments regarding SHRM’s efforts on workplace flexibility – a critically important strategic as well as a public policy issue for SHRM and our members.

    Our members, HR professionals who work in leading corporations and non-profit organizations, have seen first-hand the positive impact that innovative, flexible workplace benefits and policies have on productivity, morale, employee engagement, and the ability to recruit and retain the best minds in the world. HR professionals also know that many of the most successful programs and policies are the result of local initiatives and creativity designed to respond to employees’ needs, not from imposing a government mandate – a policy approach that takes us in the wrong direction.

    To demonstrate our commitment to leading a new dialogue on work/flex policy alternatives that work for both employers and employees, SHRM launched our Principles for a 21st Century Workplace Flexibility Public Policy in 2009. Since then we have worked proactively with all stakeholders to identify ways to promote greater access to flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and other proposals that help employees address work-life challenges.

    At the same time we have elevated the dialogue on workplace flexibility public policy, SHRM has provided critical leadership to our members and the HR profession as they work to frame this issue as a strategic organizational imperative.

    As an employer, SHRM strives to lead our members by example when it comes to workplace flexibility by offering a number of flexible work options, paid leave, and policies that convey a message to our employees that we value and support their life outside of work. A significant number of our roughly 350 employees utilize compressed work weeks, flex scheduling, telecommuting options, and part-time work.

    In March, SHRM hosted a Global Diversity and Inclusion Thought Leaders’ Summit which brought together 100 senior-level public and private sector executives to explore innovative solutions to address several of the world’s most pressing talent management challenges, including workplace flexibility.

    Later that month, attendees at the SHRM Employment and Legislative Conference heard from two pioneers of the work-life agenda, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, that flexible workplace policies not only make smart people strategies, but are good for the “bottom-line.”

    And finally, HR professionals understand that productive and engaged employees thrive when they are permitted to work in ways that allow them to do their best. SHRM believes we must encourage, not restrict employers to develop new, more flexible ways to meet the needs of their employees and allow them to do their best.

    Therefore, SHRM will continue to be a resource for our members, providing important information on everything from how to implement effective work-flex policies, to scholarly research on the latest trends in flexible workplace offerings, to advocating on key workplace flexibility issues.

    SHRM looks forward to continuing the conversation on this important workplace issue.

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