February 12, 2010
How managers can encourage employee flexibility
You'd think employees wouldn't need any nudging to take advantage of telecommuting or flextime programs, or even paid days off. But during the past year, I've heard multiple tales of employees not wanting to work from home, come in late, leave work early, call in sick, or take vacation days for fear of looking like a slacker and moving to the top of the layoff list.
For companies trying to implement work/life balance initiatives to boost office morale and perhaps save a little money in the process, this presents a challenge. If people are too afraid to take the time they so desperately need to recharge (and thus work more productively), how do you convince them they won't be penalized?
For suggestions, I contacted economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down. (I mentioned Hewlett's research on money-saving, productivity-enhancing flexible work programs last month.) Here's what she had to say:
Encourage by example. One of the best ways to hammer home the message that it's okay to participate in flexibility programs is for managers to partake too. Employees who work from home one day a week will be less likely to worry about being branded a slacker if their supervisor also regularly telecommutes. Same goes for taking the occasional afternoon gym break or slipping out early on a Friday to run an errand or pick up the kids.
Set up a rotation schedule. There's bound to be at least one change-resistant member of the department who moans, "But if we all telecommute on the same day, who will be here to mind the store? What if the big boss marches downstairs wanting answers and wanting them now? Whatever will we doooooooooo?" Rotating which days of the week your team members telecommute -- and using a whiteboard to track who's home when -- can help nip these naysayers in the bud.
Ensure that the entire team buys in. When everyone in the department participates in a flexible work initiative, you erase the stigma so often associated with working from home, leaving early once in a while, or taking an exercise break midday. Suddenly flex work is no longer regarded as a perk only used by slackers, short-timers, women, parents, Generation Y, workers nearing retirement, and people in poor health. Sell the idea to every last employee and you stand to eliminate the stereotyping and finger-pointing associated with such programs.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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