Workplace flexibility is one of the defining issues of our day. To attract and retain the best talent, companies must think of employees as whole people. Doing so is also key to strengthening our relationships with and engaging our employees. In an era when job-hopping has become the norm, that’s critically important. Here are four trends HR professionals should consider heading into 2016:
Flexibility is no longer seen as a perk but more as a solid business strategy. Today’s workers see flexibility as essential. According to data from the Families and Work Institute (FWI), 88 percent of employees report that having flexibility is “extremely” or “very” important in considering a job offer.
Employers are listening. In 2015, hardly a day passed when companies weren’t upping the ante for parental leave—from Accenture announcing that new parents won’t have to travel for a year after their child’s birth to Microsoft increasing its fully paid parental leave to 12 weeks. And Netflix topped them all by announcing fully paid parental leave for a year.
There is a business payoff for providing these benefits. In March, mobile telecom company Vodafone announced that all 30 of its global companies would offer at least 16 weeks’ paid leave to new mothers and enable them to work 30 hours a week at full pay for six months after returning. According to research Vodafone commissioned from KPMG, global businesses could save up to $19 billion annually by following Vodafone’s lead. The company also is seeing improvements in engagement and applicant quality.
Providing flexibility is not a check-the-box solution. While some companies pay lip service to flexibility by providing a policy to “check the box,” our studies show that these practices will only improve engagement, job satisfaction and retention if they occur within a culture of flexibility. That means managers and HR must actively support flexible solutions, showcase examples of success and model the behavior they wish to see.
Flexibility is just one part of an effective workplace. In studies of the U.S. workforce, FWI determined six factors that are critical to predicting engagement, retention, job satisfaction and health: 1) workplace flexibility and a culture that supports it; 2) opportunities for learning; 3) autonomy; 4) supervisor support for success; 5) a culture of trust; and 6) satisfaction with earnings, benefits and advancement. We call the employers with all six characteristics effective workplaces. That’s the type of environment HR must strive to create.
HR needs to provide real choices. Flexibility is not just a “women’s issue,” although it often arises during the debate over women’s roles. For example, the news that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer planned to take a very short leave after delivering twins spurred discussion this year about how female executives “should” manage work and home.
However, most employees don’t have the financial resources that Marissa Mayer has—and that needs to be addressed. FWI research indicates that what all employees need are real choices. When low-income employees work in flexible and effective workplaces, the payoff for companies can be more powerful than it is for more-advantaged employees. As HR professionals know, when our employees win, we all do.
Ellen Galinsky is president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute in New York City.