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Can We Talk (again) about Workplace Flexibility?

June 24, 2011

The other day I read a story about a dad who quit his job so he could make the trip to Omaha to watch his son pitch for the South Carolina Gamecocks at the College World Series.  The story points out that dad worked as a car salesman and was unable to get any personal time/vacation time from his employer to make the trip.  So he resigned.

Now we don’t know any of the details.  Maybe dad was just a lousy employee who missed a lot of work and the employer decided to draw the line at one point and say “look, you need to get your rear end in to work.”  Then again, dad may have been the hardest-working-man in the auto biz and his employer was one who strongly believes in playing by their rule book – “we couldn’t give Sally extra vacation days, so sorry – we can’t give them to you either.”

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Earlier this year SHRM announced a partnership with the Families and Work Institute called Moving Work Forward.

I get it.  I like it.  I think by now most people understand that companies with some type of flexible work arrangements may have a greater ability to recruit, retain and engage their staff members. Even if companies/HR peeps don’t track the numbers (cuz it’s one of our shortcoming), we all have anecdotal stories about “the time my cousin Betsy didn’t quit her job because her boss let her change her hours so she could pick up the kids.”

Although the SHRM/FWI partnership is in its infancy, it appears that one goal is to share resources and toolkits with HR professionals/employers so that they can at least think about adopting some innovative programs that satisfy employees yet also enhance the performance and overall effectiveness of their organizations.

I’m definitely looking forward to getting a little more information about the partnership at the SHRM Annual Conference next week, but there are already a few resources available at the We Know Next website such as this two-page outline sharing some general concepts.

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More and more companies are getting the concept of workplace flexibility being a competitive advantage.  But I think they struggle with developing flexibility that works for their specific organization, industry and business.  What works for the group of employees in the boutique advertising firm is probably not going to work for the 1,000 employees working in a 24/7 call-center environment or health care facility.   And because business leaders and HR people are so afraid of treating one employee situation differently than another, they find it easier to stick to the tried-and-true-what-we’ve-always-done model.

But even those who adopt some flexibility have to be able to articulate why Sales Superstar Everett gets to work from the coffee shop and doesn’t have to be in the office by 8 AM every day, but Gloria in Accounts Payable needs to have her butt in the chair when the doors open.

Hopefully the SHRM/FWI parternship folks will share some tips on how to have those conversations.

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