Workflex Options Usually Ad Hoc; ROI Rarely Measured

Buy-in from team leaders is key to making flex work

By Kathy Gurchiek October 9, 2015

A majority of North American employers offer flexible work arrangements, a new survey has found, but they tend to be ad hoc measures.

Without a formal policy, it’s hard to measure cost savings, attendance, productivity or employee engagement, according to WorldatWork, an association of total rewards professionals, which released the survey results in a new report, Trends in Workplace Flexibility. It found that only 3 percent of employers measure the effectiveness of their workflex programs.

WorldatWork’s findings are from a survey conducted in May and June 2015 among a sampling of its members in the U.S. and Canada.

Rethinking the Workweek

Resistance from senior leadership is the biggest reason so few employers have formalized policies. They fear straying from “an antiquated workplace structure” that organizations have come to rely on, said Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, which underwrote the report. FlexJobs is a job service for telecommuting and other flexible job listings.

Fell was among panel members discussing the research in Washington, D.C., at the WorldatWork forum on Oct. 6, titled “Rethinking the Workweek.”

Part of that resistance comes from a fear of not knowing how to manage remote workers. “There’s a lot of lazy management that relies on face-to-face management,” Sutton Fell said. “Companies have to start to shift ... to focus on the measurable.”

Creating a culture of workplace flexibility is an “evolutionary process,” the survey found.

Panel member Michael J. Fenlon, U.S. and Global Talent Leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, pointed out that even when workflex options are offered, employees may be reluctant to use them. Workers may fear repercussions to their career and colleagues perceiving them as not fully committed to the organization.

PwC has worked to create acceptance of workflex policies among its teams and to “empower and engage teams to drive this in our culture,” Fenlon said, but that requires team leader support. “At the end of the day [supporting workflex] falls to the team leader; does he or she support this benefit?”

However, WorldatWork found that less than half of managers or leaders buy into the idea that flexibility is essential to organizational success, and nearly all said their performance objectives typically do not include goals related to encouraging workflex options for employees.

Percentage of survey respondents who offer this program to some or all employees. Source: WorldatWork, 2015

Cultural Shift

In a “big cultural shift,” Fenlon reported that among the 1,200 men eligible for parental leave at PwC, one-third have taken the full six weeks offered and another third have taken three to six weeks of leave.

“That’s a big deal,” he said, and is the result of team leaders’ support. “Now it’s an expectation” that men will take parental leave.

It’s also critical to have candid conversations with employees, Fenlon said. PwC launched a competition for the best flexible work ideas among its 2,000 teams; employee ideas ranged from a team “unplugging” from their devices for one night a week to individual scheduled early-leave days. Each team voted on the best ideas to determine which ones to implement.

Panel members shied away from a question about the Department of Labor’s proposed overtime rule changes, but Sutton Fell noted the importance of governmental guidelines with regard to workflex arrangements.

“The laws are going to have to catch up, and they’ve not caught up,” she said. “It’s hindering employment and penalizing companies [that] are trying to advance workplace flexibility.”

Hourly Employees, Too

When asked how to handle workplace flexibility with hourly employees working from home, Sutton Fell stressed the importance of clearly scoping projects and the time demands involved and making sure employees keep accurate time sheets. (See the Society for Human Resource Management’s tips for minimizing Fair Labor Standards Act issues related to nonexempt workers and telework.)

“All of this comes down to trust,” she said.

In other findings from the WorldatWork survey:

80 percent of respondents offer workflex arrangements, but only 37 percent have a formal, written policy.

67 percent of managers, at their own discretion, offer flexibility to all or most of their employees.

66 percent of organizations cover the purchase of laptops for their teleworking employees.

48 percent believe teleworkers are equally as productive as in-office employees.

44 percent don’t use workplace flexibility as a recruitment benefit.

42 percent agreed that workplace flexibility is an essential element to organizational success.

3 percent said their organization doesn’t offer workflex arrangements. Management resistance and jobs that are not conductive to flexible work arrangements were the reasons most frequently cited.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

Related SHRM Article:

Five Companies That Get Workflex Right, HR Magazine, October 2015

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