Flexibility must address both how work gets done and how careers are made.
Flexible work arrangements have been part of the fabric of employment since women entered the workforce in greater numbers during the 1970s. Supports initially focused on child care and then parental leave. They grew to include part-time work and telecommuting options. Varied policies were developed at the organizational level and by governments internationally.
As time went on, organizations with well-developed policies and benefits were still losing the women they wanted to keep. Programs were not achieving their goals. Despite their best efforts, managers did not know how to retain some of their most talented employees. Defining work-life issues as women’s issues only succeeded in marginalizing the women who were attempting to sustain careers while raising families.
The problem was that the emphasis was on the wrong element. It is not about training women to fit in a role designed for the traditional breadwinner. It is not about providing "accommodations" when they don't fit. The right questions for the organization to ask are:
"How can we change to keep this talent active and involved with us?"
"How can we ensure that all employees have the ability to reach their full potential in our organization?"
While both schedule flexibility and career flexibility are required by employees, the majority simply want more day-to-day flexibility to achieve a point of equilibrium amidst constantly changing demands at home and work.
“We bring in such smart people who are responsible for so much important work in the company,
why not let them control their own schedules as well?”
-Candi Lange, Director of Workforce Partnering, Eli Lilly Co.
Managers often worry that the focus of flexibility will be on employee needs rather than business deliverables. The impact on the business is always the primary factor. In some cases the retention of an individual is in the best interest of the business, but the business outcome is still the driver. In fact, even during this economic downturn when all the fat has been trimmmed, there are several examples of companies with sustained or increased work-life programs because of their impact on short-term and long-term cost reductions.
A fatal flaw in many programs is that they are simply point-solutions and not a more comprehensive approach to flexible career design. To achieve maximum effectiveness, a flexible culture will align the workplace with a changing workforce. Workplace flexibility needs to be integrated within the talent management process and address how an individual's career may evolve over time.
The goal is a gender neutral approach to integrating work and life. It is about reducing the work-life conflict both men and women experience when fulfilling dual roles – both at home and at work. Employees need the tools to do their jobs with less stress and have more control over their time and their work.
Common hurdles to program utilization and effectiveness are management resistance, peer resentment, career penalties, and an accommodation focus. For effective flexibility to achieve its goals of attracting and retaining the desired talent, creating collaborative and innovative teams, and improving productivity, it needs support from individual managers and a focus on team solutions.
Flexible programs need to have:
Individuals need to clearly understand:
Teams need to:
To determine the best approach for improving the effectiveness of your work-life programs, please refer to NLC Services.
Elements of a Flexible Workplace: