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    February 21, 2023

    Employees & Flexible Work Schedules - It Can Be Challenging

    The debate continues around where to work. Should everyone be under one roof in an office, totally remote, or a combination of both? How do you deal with those roles that can never truly be flexible? Who should have more say over a flexible schedule model? What does that look like for your organization? How does leadership view this challenge? With the need to attract the best talent, employers need to focus on what is important to your employees and what is important to the talent you are trying to hire.

    There are still quite a few leaders at all levels that don’t feel comfortable managing a remote or blended team. Many were forced into this position because of the pandemic, but there was little, if any, training to help them navigate a new way of leading. One of the first steps to create a successful flexible working environment is to get feedback from managers and leaders about their challenges and what they need. Too often, we expect leaders and managers to just jump in, but as the saying goes, we don’t know what we don’t know. An investment in time to understand their concerns can help craft a more targeted flexible working strategy. Managers' buy-in and input can mean moving a new flexible working plan forward in a smoother way. They will be part of the solution, not just implementing it.

    For some professions, a flexible schedule will mean something very different than what we may think of as flexible. Call center employees must be on the phones for a set number of hours. Nurses can’t suddenly reduce or increase hours. Service employees that go to the customer also must have designated hours. There may be some resentment by these employees if other more desk-oriented jobs are seen as more flexible or that there is favoritism for some employees and not others in the company. How can you help employees with more regulated hours have more flexibility? For many of these employees, having regular hours they choose on a weekly basis, not hours that change week over week, can be a good option. The employees can have say in the schedule that works best for them, based on seniority. Too often, hourly employees have a schedule that changes from week to week. It means more stress if they are caring for children and/or aging adults. It also makes it much harder for them to schedule their own health and wellbeing appointments. The flexible part comes in if these employees have the option to trade hours, if something comes up for them, like a sudden illness or an accident. The hours are covered, but the employee can potentially make a change, if needed.  

    The social connection part of working together is very important, particularly for the extroverts in your organization. There are benefits to reading facial cues and body language that can get missed on a virtual call. However, there is also a whole sector of employees that benefited from remote work and don’t want to go back to the old schedule. Those with longer commutes suddenly had additional hours in their day. In some metropolitan areas, there are employees commuting an hour to an hour and a half each way. Some employees must live that far away from the workplace because of the cost of living. What considerations do you have in place to keep them productive and recognize this stressor that impacts both physical and mental health? Can they come in once a week instead of every day?  A thirty-minute walk to the office is not the same as being in stuck in traffic for hours in a car.  

    One of the major impacts of the pandemic was that many employees who are also caregivers to children and/or aging adults ended up leaving the workforce. AARP data tells us that an employee managing the care of a loved one will spend an average of 24 hours a week on caregiving tasks. If they are caring for children and an aging adult, those hours increase. At any given time, around 50% of your employees are caregivers. Has your leadership team recognized that these employees are having to make appointments, vet resources, etc. usually during business hours? Addressing your employees' caregiving challenges can mean better productivity and less turnover. Having more flexibility to be productive at work and care for children and/or aging loved ones can mean retaining key talent. 

    Questions for your Organization

    • If you have implemented a new flexible working strategy, how are you measuring success?
    • Has the new flexible working strategy led to less turnover and/or attracting the talent you need?
    • Does leadership, middle management and your front-line employees view the new flexible work schedule strategy as beneficial?
    A good flexible work strategy should be specific to your culture and your employees. After the stressors of the past few years, more employees are demanding a voice in how and when they work. Finding the balance of what employees need from a flexible work schedule and what leadership sees as important can be challenging. However, getting it right can mean having a competitive edge.    

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