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Managers: Work Flexibility Doesn't Have To Be Scary

By Kathy Gurchiek   11/14/2007
 

PHOENIX—A blindfolded manager stretched out one foot over a precipice, about to take a fatal step off a cliff into nothingness.

The PowerPoint image captured the fear many managers have of workplace flexibility, said Susan Seitel, president of WFC Resources, a work/life consulting service based in Minnesota.

Seitel was one of the speakers here during the Feb. 23 session, “Helping Managers Fall in Love with Flexibility,” during the Work-Life 2007 Conference sponsored by WorldatWork and the Alliance for Work-Life Progress.

Managers should love flexibility, she said, because it reduces absenteeism, overtime, sick leave and tardiness and it reduces stress significantly. In addition, it improves performance, quality, productivity and job satisfaction; increases commitment and job engagement; and curbs turnover.

However, workplace flexibility often is seen as a job accommodation or an exception to the rule. Managers fear the following, she said:

  • If I let one person have a flexible schedule, everyone will want one.

So what? she asked.

Managers whose entire staff works flexibly say it has made them better managers because it allows goals to be set together, it allows all employees to know what they have to do and their deadlines, and it shows a sign of trust, she said.

The proof of whether it works is in the results, she noted.

  • Someone not working a traditional schedule is not as productive.

Make sure the work is measurable, and focus on the results, she advised.

  • You cannot have an effective team if employees are not working in the same place at the same time.

Just because an employee is at his or her work station doesn’t mean that person is being productive, she pointed out.

  • If I allow flexible work hours for one employee, it won’t be fair to the others.

“Equality has a new definition,” Seitel said, and that is “how can we make your lives more livable and still get the work done?”

The 21st century workforce is diverse. Employees have different needs at different times of their lives, she said, and one solution will not work for every employee.

Flexibility can take many forms: flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, part-time work options, compressed workweeks, daily or informal flexibility, phasing in or out of a job, and seasonal work.

Getting Buy-in from Managers

Seitel suggested the following methods for getting managers on board:

    1. Get top management on your side. “Unless they know someone up there really wants them to try it, they probably won’t,” she said.

    2. Make the business case. Do this in small groups, and make the case to line managers as well.

    3. Consider a pilot project, with a start and end date. Showcase the successes.

    4. Provide and mandate good training for flexible work arrangements.

    5. Offer incentives for introducing flexibility.

    6. Encourage leaders to show support for flexible work arrangements through their actions.

    7. Help managers redesign the work, such as getting rid of duplicative or repetitive tasks.

    8. Hold continuing support groups to learn what works, what doesn’t and why.

    9. Enroll employees in making flexibility work.

    10. Track, measure, evaluate. Make flexibility outcome-based, and examine whether the process worked. Ask for permission to survey employees about workplace flexibility.

In addition, she suggested making random acts of flexibility and supportiveness, such as the following ideas taken from the WFC Resources web site:

  • Seek out and listen to employees’ ideas about how to get the work done.
  • Consider how a business decision will affect an employee’s life.
  • Take time to anticipate work/life issues that may present a conflict.
  • Make an exception in a normal work practice so an employee can handle a personal issue.
  • Let staff know you are open to considering flexible work arrangements and will approve them as long as business needs can be met.
  • Model behavior that says it’s OK to have a life.
  • Trust that employees will get the job done, and demonstrate that trust.
  • Offer information about the company’s resources, and encourage their use.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org .

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