Skywalk Group is a Cedar Rapids, Iowa based professional services firm that specializes in the areas of
human resources management, organizational development and training, IT staffing, and recruiting.
Our team has extensive experience providing critical HR strategy and support for companies of all sizes.
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FLEXIBILITY IN THE WORKPLACE Elizabeth TrckaEmployers see benefits of workplace flexibility. Flexibility in the Workplace has been in the news a lot lately with the most recent announcement by Best Buy deciding to end its Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) policy, & Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, banning workers from telecommuting. These decisions have sparked a lively debate with employers and employees. Still, there are a number of leading employers who continue the movement toward providing their workforce a flexible 21st-century workplace. Years of research from the Families and Work Institute and SHRM have shown that flexibility in the workplace is a business strategy that can help both employers and employees succeed. Workplace flexibility — telecommuting, flexible hours and other employee accommodations — is an idea growing on employers who are trying to grow their companies out of the recession. While the idea of workplace flexibility is familiar — companies have been working for years on strategies to enable employees to have some say over when and where they work — “it may become more appealing for firms looking to retain workers stressed by higher productivity demands, and attract those searching for a better opportunity,” says recruiting expert Jeff Taylor with Skywalk Group. He also states “market forces are making flexibility a more strategic alternative to some of the other ways that companies used to manage growth.” Longer-term trends may also push firms to adopt more flexible policies. Women are continuing to obtain high levels of education, incentivizing them to remain in the workforce, and creating demand from families for increased flexibility. Also, there’s evidence that younger workers, who will make up a larger chunk of the workforce as baby boomers retire, place strong emphasis on their work product, rather than hours spent in a cubicle. According to a recent report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the benefits of flexible workplace arrangements — less absenteeism and turnover, and improved worker health and productivity — can outweigh costs. Coming out of the recession, companies are shifting to more structured policies about flexible work, and away from one-off arrangements for individuals. “More companies are realizing cost savings,” Elizabeth Trcka from Skywalk Group states. “It’s not necessarily a company going from bricks and mortar 100%, to 100% telecommuting. The key with flexibility from a cost and function perspective for employees and managers is to make sure it works for both parties, the plan is communicated effectively, and employees are involved in structuring the plan where it makes sense.” “Our experience in working with many organizations is that employees don’t want to call in sick when they don’t have to,” “If they have another option, they would rather pursue that.” Who gets what? Not all employees have the same access to flexible workplace arrangements. Larger organizations tend to offer a greater number of flexibility programs, according to a February report from WorldatWork, a membership organization that provides research about human resources issues. According to the report, workers in manufacturing tend to have fewer flexible options than those in health care and social assistance. Also, the most common flexible workplace programs are: Part-time schedules, flex time, a flexible start and stop time, and specific telework arrangements that allow workers to be home to, say, meet a repairman or care for a sick family member. It can be tough for employers to find a way to extend flexible arrangements to all workers. After all, someone has to be around to meet customers, or watch a production line. However, some firms are finding ways to offer flexibility to a wide range of workers. For example, at Skywalk Group, after an initial training period for a new employee, there is flexibility to provide an employee the ability to work from home when it makes sense, while also maintaining regular time in the office. At Chevron, the firm recently added a program for employees in the San Francisco Bay area to have access to emergency child care; and at some manufacturing plants, hourly employees can trade work hours. Challenges for flexible programs Management can be a roadblock even when a well-intentioned human resources manager creates a plan for a flexible arrangement. If top-level managers aren’t on board, a program won’t get off the ground. Middle managers can also object to flexible arrangements. Trcka states, “Many HR managers agree that managers are being asked to manage people they can’t see, and supervise flexible teams where people are coming and going, and so it really challenges the bottom-line goals of managers, which is to get work done.” Resistance may be due, in part, to lack of clarity about how flexible programs will benefit the bottom line. According to the WorldatWork report, just 7% of organizations try to quantify the return on investment from flexibility programs. However, the report indicated that an organization enjoyed a lower voluntary turnover rate the higher it rated itself on a flexibility scale. So how do you know if you can or should provide a flexible program, keeping in mind that a flexible work schedule must operate to meet the needs of the business, too. Many organizations have successfully implemented workplace flexibility policies through carefully designed and well-thought-out programs. Implementing flexibility programs requires a shift in overall firm culture, norms, and values that cannot be measured in statistics or balance sheets. The success of flexible work programs is a partnership between the organization and its employees. When employers give greater flexibility in the place of work and provide employees with flexible work options, they give employees greater control over where and when work gets done, enabling them to enjoy an optimal quality of life. This, in turn, creates loyal employees that are more likely to be engaged in helping their organizations succeed, more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, more likely to stay with their employer and more likely to be in better health.