A great team is hard to find and expensive to replace. Money aside, losing key players 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 is doing this likely to 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. What do you think that was?
More money? More paid time off? Surprisingly, neither.
While those incentives were important, 76% of respondents chose a flexible work schedule as the best incentive their employer could offer. Flexible scheduling is becoming more common at modern organizations, and is even a highlighted perk for a number of Best Places to Work.
Why employers don’t offer flexibility and what they stand to lose
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% of millennials felt a more flexible work schedule would heighten their productivity.
Yet four years later, only 18% of employees surveyed by QuickBooks could say they currently have a flexible work schedule, and they’re not happy about it. In fact, 44% 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—either to drive employee loyalty and retention or to bolster morale and the company’s reputation? For some, it may come down to a lack of understanding—both of what a flexible work schedule means to employees and how to implement such a policy.
To help employers better understand what they and their employees stand to gain from a flexible schedule, here’s one employee’s personal experience.
Flexible schedules optimize the workday, improve 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
But Tiffany says things are different in her current job, and 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 2-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 an overall happier society,” she says.
Make the flexible work schedule your company’s next incentive
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 to see whether those 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 dos and don’ts for implementing a successful flexible work strategy, beneficial for both employers and employees:
Do: Take it slow and work your way up
There’s no need to approach the flexible work schedule like a smoker going cold turkey. If it’s new to you, feel free to ease into it. Try for “Flex Fridays,” then move that flexibility to other days.
As for hours, start with a core set of hours where employees are expected to be on the clock (and don’t forget your 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 on time for meetings or other key events.
Don’t: Discipline 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 surrounding what’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 100% success 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 leave it up to them to figure out how to improve any sub-par results.
Don’t: Exclude certain departments without good reason
There are some parts of any business where being at work at a specific time is absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity 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 fun 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 is a great way to be transparent about team success, foster appreciation, build purpose, and improve team morale. Flexible work schedules improve productivity, so make sure everyone on the team recognizes the benefit!
An incentive that could change everything
Employee retention and engagement is driven by a variety of factors: fair pay, annual performance-based raises, discretionary bonuses, and great leaders and coworkers (to name a few). 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, longevity, and company pride, wouldn’t you make whatever changes were necessary to achieve those results? A flexible work schedule may be that secret.