The past 18 months have brought major changes in employees' desired work/life balance. This is marked by the recent great resignation, a visible uptick in employees quitting or downsizing their jobs. Often times, employees depart in hopes of finding flexibility and balance.
According to EY, nine out of 10 employees want more flexibility to attend to personal needs during the workday, and to set their own schedules. However, as the demand for flexibility has grown, so has a firmer delineation of boundaries between work and home life. For example, there is growing pressure for leaders to not send emails after hours or ask employees to work outside the standard 9-to-5 workday.
These competing demands often place organizational leaders in a bind. Employers can, and in most cases should, give employees the flexibility they crave. However, employees must accept some give-and-take to ensure business gets done and team and company goals are met. Here's what that looks like.
Flexibility requires communication
Companies that offer employees flexibility need to have clear conversations with those employees about when they are expected to be available and working. While managers who allow their employees to work whenever they want may earn points for being accommodating, this approach can create problems if it's not paired with strong communication about availability and deadlines.
First, leaders need to clarify with their teams about if there are any days or times where employees absolutely have to be working. If you work in a client services field, for example, and must deliver reports to clients at the end of each month, you will need to ensure that your team members know to be available at the end of the month to pull those together.
You should also create a process for how and when employees can exercise their flexibility. Is it enough for an employee to notify their manager if they'll be taking a few hours off, or do they need approval? Do your managers expect employees to notify them at all, or simply take time off? If an employee wants to take a few days off on short notice, how will you ensure all their work is covered? Leaving these questions unanswered, and failing to set clear expectations, can cause problems later and may even require you to pull back on your flexibility offerings--which will leave everyone frustrated.
Flexibility requires accountability
Some managers are resistant to giving employees more flexibility because they believe it will decrease team productivity. This is a mistake: Gartner found that flexibility was the number one driver of productivity in 43 percent of employees. Flexibility can make employees more productive, not less.
However, leaders in a flexible workplace cannot simply manage their team based on the hours they work. Instead, they need to evaluate employees based on their outcomes--measurable results that they produce.
To offer flexibility, you must set up clear metrics and goals for your organization and hold your team accountable to those outcomes. If your team members accomplish everything the business requires of them, there will be far less, if any, focus on when and how they are getting their work done. If they are missing their goals, the issues should be very much on the table.
Flexibility requires tradeoffs
This facet of workplace flexibility requires the most give-and-take for employees. If a workplace gives employees the flexibility to take time off when they want and arrange their schedules around their personal obligations as needed, then it is only fair for the company to ask the same of employees when it's necessary for a business requirement.
For example: Is it fair to ask an employee who was allowed to take off Friday afternoon at the last minute to attend a kid's sports game to complete any urgent, incomplete tasks over the weekend? Is it acceptable for managers who give employees the freedom to take time off as needed to occasionally ask for some of that time back outside the typical 9-to-5 workday, especially if there is an important business deadline, such as a product launch or a big sales proposal?
Occasionally, especially in a services business, there are key business deadlines that arrive at inconvenient times. No one wants to work late, or over the weekend, but sometimes that is required to accomplish key goals. Remember, a company can only give employees flexibility if the business itself is healthy--and sometimes keeping the company running at peak capacity requires some sacrifice.
Leaders who offer flexibility to their teams need to recognize that these unusual situations will arise, and they'll need to know how to handle them. If employees want flexibility, they also need to show they are willing to be a team player when it's needed. Flexibility comes with tradeoffs--more communication, more accountability to outcomes, and occasional schedule sacrifices.