The Case For A Flexible Workplace

by Gayle Gilham on October 22, 2013

in Benefits,Employee Engagement,Leadership,Performance Management


About two years ago one of Cascade’s HR consultants attended a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) meeting in Portland where she learned about the opportunity for Oregon employers to participate in the application process for the national Alfred P. Sloan Award in Workplace Excellence and Flexibility.  This prestigious award recognizes employers that are successfully building flexible workplaces. Flexible workplaces offer flexible hours, flexible places to do the work, part-time work options, predictable work hours, and more.

According to research conducted by the Families and Work Institute (FWI), providing workplace flexibility improves business results.  Workplace flexibility (or workflex as they often call it) matters to all employees to some degree.  It can be as simple as allowing a shop employee to step away from their work area for 15 minutes the same time each afternoon to call and check on their kids after school.  And it’s not just a Gen Y issue.  One in two employees expects to provide elder care in the next five years (currently nearly one in five do).  FWI research shows that when employees have a high degree of work-life fit, almost two times as many want to stay in their current job and four times as many are highly engaged at work.  The result is that employers gain the upper hand in retaining key talent because employees value flexibility and is a key driver when considering a new job.  To sum it up, FWI states that flexibility isn’t an employee benefit of accommodation – it’s a business strategy.

From personal experience, I can tell you that workflex makes all the difference in the world.  Let me share a bit about Cascade Employers Association’s own work/life policies.

Flexible Scheduling

This is common as Cascade.  And how it works is different for each person. Schedules are tailored to people’s individual needs and can change over time as people’s life circumstances change.  For some, it’s about occasionally coming into the office late or leaving early or being able to work at home if a child is home sick from school.  For others, it’s about working remotely most of the time and only coming into the office for meetings one day a week.  There is no magic formula – it has to be figured out on a case-by-case basis.

Part-time schedules are allowed, and part-time workers earn comparable pay and benefits, as well as access to managerial positions.  (By comparison, nationally part-timers earn 20% less per hour than their full-time counterparts.) Over time, some employees move back and forth between part-time and full-time as their family responsibilities change.

Our employees are offered a paid-time-off package, which they’re more able to use for vacation because flexibility allows them to deal with things like doctors’ appointments or staying home with a sick child without having to use accrued time off.

Phased-in retirement has become the typical retirement process at Cascade.  It means that older employees reduce their work hours over a period time, rather than stopping work all at once. This is helpful to employees who are ready to reduce their hours but still need some income and still have the desire to work.  It benefits Cascade because we don’t lose that person’s expertise and organizational knowledge all at once.

Why Flexibility at Cascade?

Flexibility evolved partly organically and partly as a result of some intentional decisions. As better technology was becoming available, we hit a critical step of deciding whether or not to invest money in the infrastructure to give everyone remote access.  We decided to do it, giving all employees a laptop and reimbursement for cell phones so that they could work from anywhere.  Once we invested in this infrastructure, it got easier to allow people to create alternate schedules.  We shifted more and more toward a management style in which the key is that the work gets done; when people do the work is less important.

How Do These Flexible Policies Benefit Cascade Employers Association?

In the past 10 years as we’ve worked to develop a more flexible work environment, we’ve realized better productivity, higher engagement and increased loyalty.  Remote access allows our people to work from home on days when they need to stay home with a sick child or are sick themselves and can’t make it to the office but feel up to working.  And, our member employers benefit greatly from our flexible policies.  The average tenure of employment at Cascade is now about 11 years.  That means our members get the advantage of developing long-term relationships with those people they rely on for the services they need.

A Couple of Things to Keep in Mind (in my opinion)

Making flexibility work requires an advance culture of trust, respect and collaboration. It also requires a great deal of communication.  It’s important that organizations empower supervisors to handle issues of flexibility and to make sure that the “family first” expectation is engrained in all supervisors.  They need to trust people to do their work, and address the situation correctly if someone oversteps the bounds of flexibility. For us, implementing a workflex culture didn’t happen overnight, so take it slowly and watch your productivity, engagement and loyalty grow.

In an Employee’s Words…

“Flexibility gives me more time with my family, and in turn I have more to give to my work.  I have had such tremendous benefit from it.  It keeps me loyal and I work harder because I know how special a situation this is.”

Saved the Best for Last

As it turns out, Cascade Employers Association decided to apply for the Alfred P. Sloan Award in Workplace Excellence and Flexibility and won the award in both 2012 and 2013 (thirteen Oregon businesses earned the award).  And as a result this year, we were selected the finalist in Oregon for the Family Forward Leadership Award.  We’re very proud of this accomplishment.  If you’d like to chat further about resources to help you create a flexible workplace in your organization, please contact me.


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