By: Danielle Higley for Namely, Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash
A great team is hard to find and expensive to replace. Money aside, losing top performers affects morale and, worst-case scenario, can prompt a mass exodus, leaving whole departments devoid of senior leadership and perspective.
That’s why it’s so important to engage employees in ways that are meaningful and desirable. But what does “meaningful and desirable” mean? And what kind of impact does it have on your bottom line?
Earlier this year, QuickBooks ran a pay and benefits survey, asking 1,000 employees about their satisfaction and what benefits they’d prefer from their employer. One key question asked respondents which incentive would motivate them the most. Surprisingly, neither money nor paid time off topped the list.
While those incentives were important, 76 percent of respondents chose a flexible work schedule as the best incentive their employer could offer. Flexible scheduling has become increasingly common at modern organizations, and is even a highlighted perk for a number of Best Places to Work.
Why Employers Don’t Offer Flexibility
Flexible work schedules aren’t only appreciated, but now expected by many job applicants, especially remote workers. In 2014, Bentley University found something similar: 77 percent of millennials felt a more flexible work schedule would heighten their productivity.
Yet four years later, only 18 percent of employees surveyed by QuickBooks said they had flexible schedules, and those who didn’t weren’t happy about it. In fact, 44 percent of those surveyed said they plan to leave their current job sometime within the next two years.
If so many employees want flexible work schedules, why aren’t employers leveraging them? For some, it may come down to a lack of understanding of both what a flexible work schedule is and how a company can successfully implement them.
Flexible Schedules Increase Productivity
“Having a flexible schedule has been a godsend for my work, my health, and my family. My first job out of college was working for a digital marketing company in Seattle. My schedule was set for me, from 7 to 4, with 15-minute breaks twice a day that I had no control over. Working there felt confining and uninspired. With monotonous work and micromanagement guiding my workday, I quickly became burnt out. My efficiency suffered, my creativity was inhibited, and my attitude turned sour. And it wasn’t only me. The turnover rate for our department was about three to six months. People were in and out like bread in a toaster. There was a time when my manager said he didn’t even know the names of all the people on our team anymore.”
– Tiffany Eller, Freelance Graphic Designer and Marketing Assistant for the Higdon Group
Thankfully for Tiffany, things are different in her current job. She’s been able to support her family both financially and emotionally, working from home on a flexible schedule with the Higdon Group. “I get to work from home on my own time,” she says. “What this means for me is getting to see my stay-at-home husband and two-year-old daughter whenever I need a break. It means I get to take breaks when my mental health requires it, not when I am told I can.”
For the first time in her life, Tiffany says she understands the phrase, “work-life balance.” She wakes up to her own circadian rhythm and schedules appointments and vacations without worrying about taking time out of her paycheck. “I can make up the time on the weekend or in the evening, and I never have to wait for PTO to accrue,” she says. “I spend more quality time with my family, meditate in the middle of the day when I just can’t focus any longer, and play to my creative strengths when they’re present, not forced.”
Tiffany says flexible schedules lead to relearning “what one’s body and soul needs,” allowing individuals to optimize their day and workload to be most productive and, moreover, healthy. “If we started to focus more on the mental and physical health needs of ourselves and our employees, rather than on how many deliverables we can squeeze out of them every day, we’d end up with more successful businesses, meaningful innovation, and a happier society.”
How to Implement a Flexible Work Schedule
The U.S. Department of Labor defines the flexible schedule as “an alternative to the traditional 9 to 5, 40-hour work week.” It goes on to say, “it allows employees to vary their arrival and/or departure times. Under some policies, employees must work a prescribed number of hours a pay period and be present during a daily ‘core time.’”
Knowing that employees might still have to adhere to some scheduling regulations might help trepidatious managers take the first steps toward implementing a more balanced culture for all employees. And from there, it’s simply a matter of setting realistic goals and metrics of success to see whether expectations are being met, even as employees enjoy the freedom of a more flexible schedule.
Willing to give it a try? Here are a few do’s and don’ts for implementing a successful flexible work policy that benefits both employers and employees:
DO Take it Slow
There’s no need to approach the flexible work schedule by going cold turkey. If it’s new to you, feel free to ease into it. Test drive the policy with “Flex Fridays,” then move that flexibility to other days, and ultimately full time if it proves to be a success.
You might start with a core set of hours where employees are expected to be on the clock (but don’t forget workers in different time zones). From there, make a plan to narrow that core time if needed over the next few months with the understanding that employees must be present and on time for meetings or other important events.
DON’T Discipline Employees While Adapting to the New Policy
Avoid shaming employees for arriving a few minutes later than the “core time.” Remember, this is about flexibility, not proving who holds the power. Nothing will sour your new incentive faster than feelings of dread or anger towards a policy that’s supposed to make your company culture more alluring.
DO Have the Tough Conversations with Your Team
If flexible schedules are new, don’t expect a 100 percent success rate right off the bat. Establish agreed-upon metrics with your team, and hold people accountable if those metrics aren’t met. But before you do anything drastic, talk to your people and help them figure out how to improve any sub-par results.
DON’T Exclude Certain Departments
While there are parts of any business where being at work at a specific time is absolutely necessary, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for flexibility. When possible, consider a workaround that would enable some team members to work from home on certain days. If that’s not possible, give these team members their own unique incentives to lessen the sting.
DO Recognize Team Accomplishments
It’s easier to know when teammates make progress when they’re sitting a few feet away from you, working the same hours every day. However, it requires more deliberate effort to find out about your teammates’ accomplishments when you have different work schedules. Empowering everyone to give employee recognition will help foster appreciation, build purpose, and improve team morale. Flexible work schedules improve productivity, so make sure everyone on the team can see the benefits!
Employee retention and engagement are driven by a variety of factors such as fair pay, recognition for performance, and great leaders and coworkers. At one point, sick time was the most revolutionary employer incentive, but no more. Today’s employees want a healthy work-life balance. They want a job that gives them the flexibility to schedule doctor appointments during work hours and tend to sick kids when the need arises.
If you knew the secret to increased productivity, retention, and company pride, wouldn’t you give it a try? A flexible work schedule may be that secret.
This post originally appeared on Bonusly