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Dr. Matt Grawitch: August 2011 Archives

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I was perusing the web the other day, and I came across a blog on the website Dynamic Business. This particular blog argued that work-life balance should be re-defined as “flexible working,” the idea that workers should have greater control over how, when and where they interface with work. The author argues that technology makes it possible to create this flexibility but also cautions that “it means recognising that we’re unable to give 100 percent all of the time and establishing a personal routine that helps us balance long-term the work and personal demands we face.”

It’s about time we start talking like that! Why is it that new doctors are creating a better work-life interface than call center employees? Why haven’t we figured out how to create work cultures and structures that support flexible working across a broad spectrum of jobs?

Too many people automatically argue that flexibility can’t be a reality in a particular job. The most common arguments I hear are:

  • The job requires that employees be in the office, so there is no possible way to provide them flexibility.
  • Employees will abuse flexible working, especially if we give them the opportunity to work from home.
  • We can’t implement workplace flexibility because it will create unfairness.

Each of these arguments falls apart when you start considering the various types of workplace flexibility. And some consultants regularly work with organizations to dismantle those arguments.

The reality is that flexible working is possible, but you have to be willing to do three things:

  1. Think outside the box. Don’t confine yourself to assuming there is one right way to create flexibility across an entire organization. Flexible working doesn’t just have to involve scheduling or telecommuting.
  2. Find out what sorts of demands employees face from work and non-work life that decrease their ability to optimize their performance in either domain. If you don’t know what kinds of issues help to erode their work-life interface, you cannot possibly hope to make improvements there.
  3. Be willing to truly support a more flexible workplace culture. If you don’t truly support it, employees will not benefit from it. That means that if you are concerned about “abuse of flexibility,” then you need to take steps to ensure that cannot happen (e.g., introduce outcome-oriented performance, offer flexibility with greater autonomy as recognition for past performance). You might even try rolling out pilot programs (which I generally recommend anyway) to ensure that flexible working is producing no ill effects on performance.

Of course, there are going to be barriers and challenges in creating a more flexible workplace culture. It can be difficult any time there is change, but if you implement a sound, data-driven, systematic process, you may find yourself with a more flexible workplace culture and improved employee performance.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/rohit_saxena / CC BY-NC 2.0