|The conventional idea of what constitutes the “ideal worker” is more about presenteeism— the employee who remains chained to their desk, who burns the midnight oil, who sacrifices a personal life for their commitment to the company—and less about real productivity.|
What works for one company doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for another, even if the two belong to the same industry, and “there are certain types of flexibility that will work and certain types of flexibility that won’t,” said Rachael Ellison, an organizational consultant and executive coach who spends much of her time counseling both individuals and companies on finding work/life solutions.
There’s also the question of who gets what kind of flexibility: A receptionist, by definition, generally needs to be in the office during office hours, while salespeople can work from home when they’re not visiting clients. Engineers, programmers, and technicians are required to work around the clock to complete a specific project, presenting the opportunity to offer them more flexible hours in slower times. What’s important, Horn said, is not creating equality, where everyone gets the same flexibility, no matter their role in the company—a sure way to ensure that work doesn’t get done—but equity. “If it’s clearly communicated—‘You know, Joe, you can’t telework, but you can have autonomy over when you take your break times and your start and stop times’—that really goes a long way to alleviating that feeling of unfairness, as long as there’s something available to every member of the team,” she said. She uses SHRM as an example: In her role, she has the option to do compressed workweeks, telecommuting, and flex time. SHRM’s administrative staff, on the other hand, can’t telecommute, but they can take advantage of a compressed schedule, and while they’re expected to be present during core business hours, they have a bit of choice of when they begin and end their workday.
Establishing employee availability, however, is only part of the equation, and it doesn’t necessarily answer the question of how the work is going to get done. If, for example, Sally’s compressed workweek means that she has Fridays off, can Susan realistically take over if a client needs to meet on that day? And, will she have all of the tools necessary to ensure that the client is well taken care of?
Ellison cited a company she’s familiar with that, upon learning that a senior staff member was taking maternity leave, examined these issues to develop a model whereby employees could hand off work to one another seamlessly, but she conceded they spent a considerable amount of time doing so. “They spent 50 or 60 hours getting it set up with that first person, but now they have a system where any employee can leave early, can have a family, can go on leave—can have any kind of situation that they need to tend to—and they can easily pass their work off to somebody else,” she explained. While solutions like project management and collaborative tools play a big role in keeping remote employees aligned, workflow management practices like the one Ellison described also require people to be transparent, so their colleagues can successfully pick up from where they left off. “You need to change the culture so that documenting their progress, very explicitly, is something they feel comfortable doing.”
Regardless, Ellison believes that it pays to be flexible. She said that the conventional idea of what constitutes the “ideal worker” is more about presenteeism—the employee who remains chained to their desk, who burns the midnight oil, who sacrifices a personal life for their commitment to the company—and less about real productivity. “Our best work gets done when we’re feeling engaged and satisfied with our lives overall, both in the workplace and outside the workplace,” she said. She also argued that the more control employees have over their schedules, the better performers they will be. “We have to think about what more they could achieve if they were able to bring their whole self to work in a different way. [The] more flexibility you give for someone to be able to meet their needs inside and outside of work, the more opportunities they have to grow as professionals, and to innovate in your organization.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.
Flex Time: Track Their Hours
Lisa Horn, director of congressional affairs and co-leader of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative, cautions employers that if they offer workplace flexibility, they should ensure they have an adequate system in place for tracking the hours employees actually work. This issue is further complicated by the new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, which mandates that as of December 1, 2016, the salary threshold for those eligible for overtime pay will rise to $47,476 a year.
“Ultimately that means that many more organizations, especially small and medium-sized businesses, are going to have to make some tough decisions about reclassifying their currently exempt employees… a lot of your midlevel managers who currently are exempt but maybe make under that $47,000 threshold, they’ll have to be reclassified,” Horn explained. “Non-exempts will have to track time, and that’s where organizations have to be particularly careful when it comes to a flex time arrangement, so they’re making sure that all hours worked are, in fact, tracked.”