Why Firms Need to Focus on Flexibility
As workers leave their jobs en masse, here's one way that employers can set themselves apart.
As Covid-19 restrictions ease across the country, employees are resigning from their jobs in droves. One Gallup analysis indicates that close to half of American workers are considering or actively seeking new opportunities; at the same time, many employers are struggling to attract talent.
What's driving this dynamic? On the one hand, it appears that the pandemic and its associated challenges have served to reveal many employers' true colors. At a time of heightened anxiety, many workers found they felt devalued and unappreciated by those in charge. As such, it became increasingly clear that their employers' lofty mission statements, as well as bold proclamations regarding work-life balance and culture, were little more than empty words.
For many, the ongoing pandemic has also forced a profound reevaluation of what matters in life. Amid the solitude and introspection, some of it uninvited, countless workers began to replace long commutes and rushed routines with healthier habits. Others relished the opportunity to spend more time with loved ones, while those grappling with bereavement perhaps found themselves confronting feelings of regret. Were the long hours at work worth the time sacrificed with loved ones?
Amid it all, there's a nagging question: Is the life I've been living by design or default?
Focus on flexibility
For some employers that have long equated time spent in the office to output, there is a keen desire to pretend this whole reshuffling never happened and return to the ways things were. However, this approach is short-sighted and likely to prove detrimental to hiring and retention efforts.
We suspect (and hope) that the once-lauded "hustle culture" — a cynical celebration of overwork at the cost of one's wellbeing and personal relationships — is on the way out. As has been more apparent these past 18 months than almost any time in living history, work is not an adequate substitute for health or human connection. Employees are catching on to the fact that little in life is guaranteed, and are seeking out roles that offer the opportunity to cultivate a work-life balance and enhanced wellbeing.
Countless organizations have repeated the aphorism that their employees are their greatest asset, and the sentiment is far from misplaced. Your employees help you formulate and execute big ideas, better connect with your customers and keep the wheels turning. They can also serve as powerful brand ambassadors that enable you to attract new customers and fresh talent. However, they're more than just assets — they are human beings with unique needs and circumstances. It's time for companies to start treating them as such and help them balance their work obligations with other pursuits that they find meaningful or restorative.
The case for flexible work arrangements
A focus on flexibility offers some key benefits for employees and their employers alike. Research suggests that workers enjoying some latitude in terms of location and/or hours tend to be more productive and significantly less stressed. They are also likely to be more loyal to their employers.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that a flexible approach may serve as a competitive advantage in companies' hiring processes. Furthermore, it may supercharge their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts: By allowing workers to telecommute, businesses can hire outside their immediate geographic region and tap into minority talent that has historically been underrepresented in high-growth metropolitan areas. But a truly inclusive work environment should also emphasize diversity in terms of needs and individual circumstances, ensuring that all employees feel seen, heard and valued. Flexible work arrangements can go some way toward supporting those who might otherwise be forced to make difficult decisions regarding their competing priorities — this might include working parents, individuals with caregiving responsibilities for adult family members, people with disabilities or workers based outside of pricey urban areas.
How to implement flexibility and promote balance
If a job can be performed remotely at least some of the time, give employees the option to do so, ensuring they have the requisite tools to complete their work and remain connected. If remote is not feasible, think about other ways you might give workers leeway in their schedules. Can their working hours be amended to accommodate childcare, religious observances, personal obligations and other needs? Can you implement somewhat regular mental-health days where employees are encouraged to detach from work and recharge?
Employers might also wish to consider the benefit of sabbaticals that allow employees to step away from their role for an elongated period, usually three months or longer. At Ethic, we have allowed tenured employees to step back into their roles after taking extended leaves of absence to pursue their passions. In our experience, these individuals have returned inspired and invigorated following their extended leave, while their coworkers have had the rewarding opportunity to embrace new responsibilities and learn new skills.
It's also not enough to merely verbalize the merits of flexibility: Managers must lead by example and make sure that workers know they will not be stigmatized for using the very benefits being extended to them. Actively encourage employees to make use of vacation time and work remotely, as needed. And if you see someone logged on outside of hours? This isn't something to be commended; it should instead elicit a candid dialogue about how you can better support them and ease their burden.
Communication is undeniably key to successfully instituting more flexible workplace policies, in terms of soliciting feedback from teams as to their needs, outlining clear expectations and parameters and conducting regular check-ins to ensure that workers are engaged and continuing to meet key business objectives.
While all of this might seem daunting, chances are the investment in your people will pay off. We're of the view that humanity beats hustle, every time.
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