While it’s true that work/life books, sites and articles don’t all agree on which solutions would work best for promoting workplace flexibility or who should initiate them, there’s one thing most do agree on–workplace flexibility must be a cooperative effort in order to succeed.
If the CEO of a company wants to promote flexibility, but the managers think it will create more work for them, they’re less likely to implement new strategies. If an employee wants to change his schedule, but hears through the office grapevine that schedule changes are reserved only for new mothers (whether that’s true or not), he may not ask for change if he believes he’s just going to be shot down. If a manager calls a meeting to introduce flexibility programs to her employees, but the employees complain about having to fill in for co-workers who leave early, a lack of support can derail the new programs unless those concerns are resolved.
So how do you get everyone on board? Whether you’re an employee, a manager, or the CEO, here are a few suggestions:
If you’re an employee, make your request as easy for everyone else as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to water down your needs. It just means you need to show how your employer’s needs will be fulfilled. If you’re going to leave early on Fridays, does someone else need to be there to answer the phone or will you still be available for emergencies by cell phone? If you’re job sharing, which one of you will cover which aspects of the job? Plan well enough to assure your managers and your co-workers that you’re not going to give them more job headaches than they already have.
If you’re a manager, it’s important for you to involve your employees as much as possible in the process. Many employees are afraid to ask for flexibility because they worry that they’ll appear less committed to their jobs or be relegated to a position with less pay and/or responsibility. They may even worry about losing their jobs. You can do a lot to reassure your employees by letting them know flexibility is a viable option. Two ideas for doing this are: treating employees with alternative schedules equally when it comes to promotion eligibility or taking a more flexible schedule yourself as an example.
As an employer, it’s up to you to show how committed you are to your flexibility programs. You can create focus groups, committees or partnerships in your organization to give you some input into how flexibility is working and whether or not your strategies need tweaking. You can train managers and employees on effective flexibility strategies. You can reward managers who successfully implement flexibility, and you can measure and report the results of flexibility on your organization’s bottom line. If you treat flexibility as a business strategy rather than a perk, employees will trust that flexibility is an integral, long-lasting part of your organization.
It is possible to make changes, and when it comes to flexibility, those changes are worthwhile. The more your organization works together, the more likely it is that your flexibility strategies will succeed.
This guest blog has been provided by Kaylie Astin, founder of Family Friendly Work, for the Women’s Business Center.