There’s a marked gap between the flexibility employers offer and the benefits employees perceive.
In our work life study*, we found that 77% of employers said they offered workplace flexibility. This was most often in the form of accommodation—that is, addressing requests on an informal basis.
But significantly fewer employees (64%) reported that they worked in flexible workplaces. Moreover, only 20% said their employer was supportive of work life issues.
That’s a big difference—with serious implications for all parties.
This gap in perceived flexibility means employers aren’t getting the full benefit for the accommodations they offer. Studies have shown that employee perception of workplace flexibility is a critical factor in reduced stress, less absences, and greater commitment to the job.
In other words, if employees feel that your company is inflexible, you might as well be.
Communication is Neglected
Even if you aren’t quite ready to expand your workplace flexibility programs, you can better leverage the options you do have with a work life communication campaign.
According to a Hewitt study, less than half the employers interviewed provided education and communication about their flexibility programs. Of those that didn’t, 31% said they limited communication in order to limit use.
Admittedly, many companies fear that communicating flexible scheduling options will lead to a mass exodus on Fridays, abuse, or over-utilization.
However, companies who have launched new programs will tell you that’s not what happens at all. There’s always a certain percentage of people who want to be at work during standard business hours and teams work out among themselves how to provide necessary coverage.
In order to realize the benefits of flexible work arrangements, companies must communicate that those options are available and supported by leadership. Doing so doesn’t preclude you from allowing managers to coordinate their own departments or address requests on a case-by-case basis (provided the manager receives training and support to facilitate such requests).
In order to get credit for offering flexibility and work life benefits you must communicate those programs to both employees and to the people implementing them. Again, if employees fail to recognize your work life accommodations, you fail to capitalize on the goodwill and other benefits these programs generate.
Initiate a six-month rotating communication schedule through company newsletters, bulletin boards, intranet, and special events.
An educational campaign reminds employees of the importance of taking time out for family and rejuvenation. When corporate actions consistently reinforce these messages, employees will be more likely to recognize and credit your work life activities.
Month 1: Advertise the Options
Start with a reminder about the standard flexible scheduling opportunities and work life benefits available in your organization. This might include flexible start and end times, comp. time, or a willingness to consider job sharing requests.
Explain why you support flexibility. People who feel in control of their schedules adopt healthier habits and have less stress. Taking time out when needed makes people more productive and creative—good business cases for flex.
Month 2: Vacation – Good for You; Good for Us
Encourage employees to use allotted vacation time. It’s good for their health and their productivity. More information: benefits of vacation time.
Post a thermometer with everyone’s available vacation time. Set a corporate goal to reach a certain percent utilization by the end of the year, and update the calendar monthly.
Month 3: Organization Supports Flexibility
The message this month is that a well-organized filing system (both electronic and paper files) facilitates flexibility. When information is accessible, team members can easily step in and support each other.
Sponsor a dumpster day when employees can come in blue jeans and clean out their files and organize the office. Hold brainstorming sessions or hire an organization or technology consultant to find ways to make information sharing easier.
Month 4: Cross Training and Team Work
This is a good time to remind employees that they have a personal stake in cross training.
Once information is organized, encourage employees to get proactive about sharing information and mentoring new team members. Some people get very protective of their work silos because they think that knowledge makes them indispensable to the organization and protects their jobs. Those attitudes are not only detrimental to the company, they limit flexibility.
Of course, cross-training initiatives can take months to implement. If you don’t already have procedures in place, start by having employees create process manuals to document key job functions.
Month 5: No Sludge Atmosphere
Company culture is one of the biggest barriers to a successful flexibility program! Negative attitudes can stem from both management and employees. Launch a no-sludge initiative aimed at building positive, company-wide support for flexible choices. Here’s more about sludge and combating negative attitudes at work.
Encourage employees to recognize coworkers who pitch in and help them manage work life issues. For example, give each employee 10 “thank you for helping me flex” cards to recognize co-workers who pitch in to help them manage. Include a spot on the back so employees can write who they’re thanking and why:
“Thanks to Susan for covering the phones Tuesday morning so I could take my mom to the doctor.”
“Thanks to John for coordinating the newsletter release Thursday afternoon so I could coach an early soccer game.”
Have management highlight examples at weekly meetings to reinforce team behaviors.
Months 6 – 36: Continue Communicating
Make workplace flexibility messages an integral part of internal communication. Employees need to recognize your support for work life issues in order to utilize these benefits and appreciate your support. Ultimately, that translates into all sorts of residual benefits including lower turnover, lower stress, and increased job commitment.
Recognize that this sort of campaign will do more than highlight flexible scheduling opportunities. As the positive company culture builds, momentum will grow. Employees and managers will learn from each other, new ideas will materialize and the program will enjoy some healthy organic growth.
by Jaime Leick
LMW Content Editor