Starting with Marissa Meyer’s heresy of eliminating the “work from home” option for Yahoo! employees, followed closely by Best Buy’s dumping of their ROWE commitment, flexible work arrangements have been in the news. And not in a positive way!
Conversations on and presentations about the bottom-line value of providing workforce flexibility are everywhere. Who is driving the focus?
Well, the Families and Work Institute (), the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), World at Work, the American Society for Training & Development, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation — all are researching, surveying, presenting, writing, and giving webinars and conferences on this emerging “best practice.”
But is it really being practiced? Has it reached critical mass in terms of adoption?
Identifying the business value of flexible work arrangements
In WorkFlex: The Essential Guide to Effective and Flexible Workplaces, published jointly by SHRM and the Families and Work Institute, Merck CEO Richard Clark is quoted as saying:
“If we give flexibility, if you give the responsibility to the employees, if you say, ‘Here’s the work that needs to be done; the way you do it is irrelevant to me,’ it improved productivity.”
Here’s a CEO who sees value in flexible work environments.
And there are several persuasive case studies in the WorkFlex guide that support the claims of positive bottom line impact of flexible work arrangements.
But in most organizations and industries, providing flexibility to employees has not become a common “benefit.”
It takes a lot of organization and administration not to run afoul of local, state and federal regulations. And, of course, there are many industries and situations where flexible work arrangements are problematic: employees covered by bargaining agreements, primary healthcare organizations, many retail and financial organizations, and other highly regulated industries.
Much of the new data coming on this topic are focused on selling the concept of providing working parents flexibility to attend to child and elder care issues. And it’s hard to argue that parents shouldn’t be able to be more available to their kids and parents when needed.
The benefits to employees are clear! What doesn’t seem so clear are benefits to employers.
Even so, more and more workplace experts are encouraging employers to provide more flexibility throughout their relationships with their employees.
However, the conversations don’t seem to be going anywhere. Despite some data that show increased employee engagement and lower turnover — easily translated into dollars saved — employers are not warming to the focus on flexible work arrangements.
In a recent webinar by the Families and Work Institute, the following chart was shown from research completed in 2012 :
Yahoo! and Best Buy aren’t the only folks not buying the argument. It would appear that most employers aren’t being persuaded. And in fact, it appears that flexible work practices may be diminishing not expanding.
Change is hard. And change frequently comes slowly.
But hard data, numbers, dollars saved, increased productivity and decreased turnover statistics are needed to persuade other business leaders of the value of flexibility.
Quantifying the business benefits
SHRM lists the following business benefits from adopting more flexible work arrangements:
- Reduced turnover costs, real estate costs, callouts/absenteeism
- Improved recruitment and retention of top employees
- Increased productivity
- Improved customer service and employee health
- Improved business continuity during natural disasters and inclement weather
- Ability to reduce environmental footprint
The hard data associated with these claims would be most helpful in keeping the conversation going and changing current organization practice.
HR and other business leaders who see flexibility as one more weapon in the arsenal focused on the attraction, engagement and retention of a world class workforce will appreciate employer outcomes-focused data to build their cases.
And that is what’s needed if the “workflex movement” is going to gain traction.
As with all things related to people in organizations, hard employer-outcome data is required to build persuasive business cases.
As this movement gathers steam, as conference presentations are built, as experts take to social media, as the industry buzz continues to hum — building the case from the data up is what will change organizational behavior. Clearly a strong start has been made.
It will be interesting to follow the industry buzz to see if this “best practice” becomes a “common practice.”
Organizations like the Families and Work Institute and SHRM can use their bully pulpit to arm HR leaders with current, actionable data to create the compelling business case for more flexible approaches to work.
For more insight from China on the key trends impacting talent management and the HR profession, read Managing the risk of HR technology early adoption.