Your Managers Are Preventing Employee Happiness
A recent study published in the American Sociological Review clearly showed that, in a white collar environment, allowing workers some control over their own schedules, including being able to work from home, had a positive effect on employees' work-family balance without sacrificing productivity. In fact, the main sacrifices were low-impact meetings. In other words, when people had the flexibility to control their own schedules, suddenly meaningless meetings went away.
So, why wouldn't everyone jump on the flexible-schedule bandwagon?
Well, for one reason, managers aren't very good at managing a flexible workforce. Despite all the changes in technology and the fact that they should be looking at end products rather than face time, managers still reward the early birds and consider late risers as slackers, regardless of actual work done.
This, is, shall we say, stupid. By focusing on face time, and perceived "hard work" you can miss out on great employees. Not that you're not willing to hire them, but because you discount their abilities once they are on board.
For instance, a friend of mine is a night owl. When she accepted a new job, everyone agreed that she could come in whenever and work from home when needed. So, she did. Within a year, her boss had her on a performance-improvement plan, and senior management blamed every mistake on "the slacker." So, she found a new job with policymakers who really meant what they said about flexible schedules.
Result? Within two months, her former company was on the phone begging her to return. They "hadn't realized" she had done so much. All that bad stuff they had said? They wanted to take that back, and could she please come back? Maybe with a raise and a promotion?
If you're guessing she laughed in their faces, you'd be mostly right. She politely turned them down, saying she was happy in her new job, but then she laughed hysterically.
This is an example of how management can be so focused on face time that they never stopped to consider actual work product. The person who wasn't sitting in her desk at 8:00 a.m. must be the one not pulling her weight. And those emails sent at midnight? Just an indication that she'd procrastinated and now had to work late to make up for it.
Your management is the biggest impediment to implementing a flexibility plan that will make your employees happy, therefore lowering your turnover and increasing engagement.
Managing employees that aren't working the exact same hours that the manager works is more difficult. There is no doubt about that. Managers need to have different skill sets and need to be willing to have harder conversations. When everyone is sitting in front of you, it's easy to say, "Hey, Bob, I see you're paying Candy Crush again. You need to stop that." When Bob is at home, you don't know if he's working hard or playing on his phone. You have to look at his work. This means managers need to understand the work product that their employees create, and it means a higher level of trust with employees.
It is true that some employees are not capable of working a flexible schedule because, to them, "flexible" means "not working." This means you'll suffer some involuntary turnover or have to say to some employees, "this is not working out for you. I need you to be in the office from 8:00 to 5:00 every day."
If you have good management, there is no reason not to implement more flexibility for your white-collar workforce. But if you don't have good management, it's not the ideal solution.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.