The business landscape has changed. The days when compliant employees did as bosses commanded has ended, thankfully. Though some organizations have cultures where this is alive and well, they are slipping into irrelevance. They will continue to struggle to attract top talent and keep who they have.

Today's employees are looking for a meaningful, purposeful work experience. In a 2011 DeVry University study, 71 percent of millennials placed meaningful work at the top when defining career success. What's more, research from McKinsey & Company found that in their study 2,000 executives placed finding meaning in their activities as the strongest influencer on life satisfaction. Doing work that matters is not limited to a generation.

The Role of Work Flexibility in Business

A significant influence on meaningful and purposeful work is flexibility.

Work flexibility is when businesses put into place practices that give freedom to employees. The freedom focuses on letting employees do their best work in a manner that aligns with their needs. In some cases, there is an absence of policy or procedures that give employees freedom.

Consider the following example from Poppin, a modern office furniture store. At Poppin, they promote work flexibility through a variety of practices and non-policies. They offer employees unlimited vacation hours--a non-policy. They have a practice, "Nifty Fifty," that reimburses employees $50 for money spent caring and connecting with coworkers outside the office. Notice there's no time limit or frequency. It's up to the employee to determine with whom and when to meet outside work.

The role of work flexibility is to signal trust and respect. What's more, flexibility assumes that employees are mature, high performing adults, a belief central to Express Homebuyers. At Express Homebuyers, they live into this belief by not tracking paid time off. They also have no vacation limits.

Treat people like adults and they'll act like one.

Benefits of Work Flexibility

Recently Vodafone released a study showing that 75 percent of global companies have flexible working policies. (I'd argue that it's not just a policy, however. It's a mindset. For the policy to actually be effective, leadership teams must have a mindset that leads them to support the related practices.)

In Vodafone's study they found these benefits of workplace flexibility:

  • 61 percent of global respondents said profits increased with a flexibility policy
  • 83 percent saw an improvement in productivity
  • 58 percent believed flexibility practices improved the company's reputation
  • 61 percent of American companies saw an improvement in teamwork
  • 77 percent of American companies saw an improvement in employee morale

It may be easier to avoid adjusting business practices and procedures to support flexible work arrangements, but it dulls a company's competitive edge.

Work Flexibility Practices

I talked with quite a few businesses across various industries about their work flexibility practices. Here are what some leading companies have implemented. You may want to consider these ideas for your business:

  • At Iterate Marketing in Portland, Oregon teams vote when they need to arrive to work and when to leave.
  • At Crowe Horwath, a public accounting, consulting, and technology firm in the United States, they give employees freedom to learn when and where they want via a virtual learning community. Much of their learning solutions are accessible for coworkers via the cloud.
  • At PR firm, MWWPR, employees can freely relocate to other offices and even participate and arrange a short-term exchange program if they are considering moving to a different city where the firm does business.
  • At Zest Finance, they flex their support by allowing employees who are primary caregivers six months of paid time off, three months of paid time off for new secondary caregivers, and the option for primary caregivers to work part-time for six additional months without losing benefit coverage

In my search for work flexibility practices, it was common for businesses to allow employees to arrange their work schedules around traffic and getting children to school. Many also shortened Friday office hours during the summer. None lowered their performance expectations.

Gone are the days when supervisors monitor the coming-and-going of people. Today's leaders focus on maximizing human potential. Flexibility, freedom, trust, and respect are central to this important focus. Improved employee morale and increased company profits are what you stand to gain. And in today's fight for top talent, flexible work arrangements are attractive to current and potential employees.