Employee Engagement

Flexible Work Programs Too Flexible?

Organizations need to embrace a more structured approach that’s aligned to business metrics in order to reap the rewards of offering varying work options.

By Kristin Thomas

There appears to be a big disconnect when it comes to flexible work options. WorldAtWork’s new survey 2015 Trends in Workplace Flexibility measured the usage and management of work flexibility programs of 375 companies. Across the board, flexible work seems to be utilized in an ad-hoc way with few companies harnessing the potential business benefits of such programs.

Flexible work programs have risen in popularity. The report found that more than 80 percent of organizations offer such programs to some or all of their employees. Findings also provide guidance on how today’s flexible work options are defined. The most prevalent flexible programs offered include such features as:
• telework on an ad-hoc basis
• flex time (the ability to set start and end times at work, or to change schedules easily)
• part-time schedules
• compressed workweeks (working 40 hours in four days, rather than the typical five-day workweek)

The setting of core hours for flexible workers is common. While core hours vary between business units and departments, 34 percent of organizations typically set their workdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Today’s flexible work programs tend to lack structure. The vast majority of organizations -97 percent -have no formal measurements to see how flexible work options support their business objectives or affect employees’ behavior. For HR professionals, the data that could come from tracking the return-on-investment of flexible work programs would be hugely supportive in refining, growing, and harnessing those programs to be a larger part of the company’s business objectives and goals.

One of the reasons for a lack of tracking and metrics for flexible work programs may be their ad-hoc nature. Only 37 percent of those surveyed report they have a formal, written policy to support employee flexibility options. This means 63 percent of companies have unstructured programs that vary by employee. Even further, more than two-thirds of managers (67 percent) offer flexibility at their own discretion. For HR, an unformalized approach leaves organizations open to all sorts of compliance issues and employee dissatisfaction. A real -or perceived -lack of fairness can lead to employee complaints, charges of discrimination, and confusion when employees move between departments.

Organizations need to get managers onboard if they want to see success in their flexible work options. The 2015 Trends in Workplace Flexibility found that only 42 percent of managers accept the idea that work flexibility is an essential element to business objectives and tied to the bottom line. This may be a result from the fact that even fewer team leaders are trained to manage employees with flexible work arrangements than were trained in 2010. This year’s survey found that only 15 percent of managers receive training to help them manage flexible workers, down from 21 percent in 2010. Managing flexible workers often requires specific skills and nuances. “Managing remote employees requires additional effort,” says Scott Beth, Intuit’s vice president of finance operations and workplace. “Managers must ensure alignment of work to objectives and provide timely feedback and support.”

While many companies offer flexible work options, very few actually take time to track what those options do for their business. HR can play a huge role in formalizing and quantifying the effects of flexible work. Being able to link flexible work to positive bottom-line impacts will help overcome any resistance from top management and untrained managers. And having a more formalized policy will help avoid employee frustration and complaints at the lack of coherence in ad-hoc programs. Proactive HR managers should move toward more formalized, trackable, flexible work programs because they benefit both employees and companies.

Tags: November 2015

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