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Flexibility: Key to Employee Retention in 2023

As 2022 comes to a close, several work trends are clearly visible on the horizon. Here’s one employers can’t afford to ignore — an alarming number of employees are still leaving their jobs. For all the talk about “the Great Resignation” being behind us, turnover continues to shape the world of work. And it doesn’t seem to be fading.

What’s the culprit here? In my opinion, too many employers continue to discount the need for flexibility in all its forms. Not sure if this should be a priority for you? Then consider some big-picture statistics:

  • recent Workhuman survey focused on workforce behavior and sentiment estimates that 36% of employees plan to leave their jobs in 2023.
  • Gartner predicts that steep 20% turnover rates will continue for the foreseeable future, with as many as 65% of employees still reevaluating their career paths.

These findings are hard to ignore. But rather than drilling down on disengaged workers and why they’re looking for greener pastures, I’d like to flip the script. Instead, let’s talk about people who want to remain in place. What can we learn from them?

Why Some People Stay

What is keeping people onboard? No doubt, some are hunkering down in reaction to growing economic uncertainty. But despite recent layoff news, many organizations are still hiring qualified talent. So why aren’t more people jumping ship?

Here’s why I think flexibility is the key. It is one of the most important factors keeping satisfied people connected with their employers and committed to doing their best work. In fact, as a motivational force, flexibility is second only to salary — ranking even higher than a positive work culture.

That’s powerful stuff. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s look closer.

Making a Business Case for Flexibility

If you’re mapping your HR goals for 2023, keep this caveat in mind: From a business perspective, flexibility may be losing some of its sheen. Organizations are facing the prospect of another year trying to juggle remote and hybrid workforce models. And after years of struggling to get it right, some companies may not be willing to invest as much time and effort to make it work.

Other business factors are causing leaders to push for a return to the office. After all, money talks. And the cost of office space doesn’t drop by 50% if only half of your workforce is filling the space. Also, we hear more executives emphasizing what suffers when people work from a distance — social bonds, career growth, collaboration and innovation.

But if you’re contemplating a full-scale return to office, perhaps you should think twice. Here’s why. I’m reminded of a 2021 #WorkTrends podcast conversation about flexibility with work-life expert and business consultant, Suzanne Brown.

Did Suzanne know something the rest of us weren’t ready to take seriously when she said this?

“People will stick around now. But as soon as the economy starts to strengthen, if you haven’t already built flexibility into your culture, you’ll start to lose people quickly.”

Circumstances may have shifted since that discussion, but Suzanne’s advice still holds true.

Flexibility Isn’t Just Skin Deep

When the conversation turned to imagining what flexible work could look like on the other side of the pandemic, I recall Suzanne saying:

Flexibility is more than just taking an afternoon off once in a while. Flexibility is how you treat employees in the long-term.

So true. The pandemic underscored what employers already knew (but may not have been willing to fully support at that time). But the fact remains, people want and deserve flexibility, even when the pandemic isn’t a concern.

With this in mind, what can employers do to build flexibility into their organization’s DNA? The challenge is to match the right conditions to choices that make sense for your workforce. Flexibility is both an informal and a formal state of work. And every organization is unique.

The possibilities are diverse: job sharing, split-shifts, permanent remote work, four-day work weeks, cross-functional talent mobility programs, project-based talent sharing, freelancing pools, part-time arrangements and more.

But the trick is to offer a mix of options that are relevant and meaningful for your people, while also supporting your organization’s values, culture and goals. If you’re serious about finding the best choices, you’ll involve your people in defining the options and being accountable for their success.

Clarifying the Rules

Flexibility deserves to be more than a random whim or a moving target. Employees and employers alike need to agree on guidelines. Indeed, your team’s ability to perform well in any combination of flexible roles demands a workable game plan.

Because employees see flexibility as the sign of a great work culture, it’s important to get their buy-in. Begin with a renewed reality check. Take the time now to ask employees and managers what kind of flexible options they believe would work best, going forward. (Anonymous surveys and feedback tools are terrific at helping you manage this process and interpret findings.)

Keep in mind that individual circumstances, career objectives and personal preferences change over time. What works for someone today may no longer fit in a year or two. People don’t want to be trapped in a work structure that no longer serves them. What will your process be for people who want to rethink their choices and modify their work model?

Here’s the clincher for employers. You need to demonstrate respect for people’s wishes. Respect and recognition are intimately connected with employee satisfaction, productivity and commitment.

That means leaders must be willing to do more than listen. It’s essential to take appropriate action in response to input. And it’s even more important to repeat this process, over and over again. When you demonstrate an ongoing commitment to building your flexible agenda around collaborative conversations, how can employees resist?

We’ll see what happens soon enough. The pandemic no longer has a grip on our every move, but the Great Resignation is still happening. No one knows for sure what will unfold next. But whatever challenges lie ahead, you can’t go wrong by staying in touch, staying open and staying flexible.

It could just be what convinces more of your people to stay.

Image by Laurentiu Lordache

The Proven Success of Less: Opting for The Shorter Workweek

As we reinvent work in the post-pandemic world, can we see finally see the benefits of a shorter workweek?

Americans work harder than their counterparts in most of the world’s developed economies, clocking in an average of 34.4 hours per week. Many adults work even longer, with most American reporting an average of 47 hours of work per week (or nearly six working days per week). Almost four in ten American workers log 50 hours or more.

Those extra hours aren’t helping us perform better. Conversely, those additional hours on the clock actually cost us productivity, health, and happiness.

It’s time to work smarter, not harder. It’s time to cut down the working week.

Here’s why a shorter workweek is better for us.

The Success of Less in Other Countries

Many employers cry foul at the suggestion of shortening workweeks. Typically, they rely on the argument that shortening the workweek will cost productivity. But if you look at the data from the other largest economies in the world, shorter workweeks make a positive difference.

European countries have bought into the idea of a shorter workweek for decades. Scandinavian countries have long been advocates of shortening the working week (the average Danish employee logs 33 hours a week).

It’s no coincidence that Scandinavian countries consistently rank among the happiest in the world. It’s all about work-life balance.

Productivity vs. Burnout

In the work-life balance equation, Americans often favor work over life and take balance entirely out of the equation. We say that we emphasize productivity. But the reality is Americans seem to prioritize, and even take great pride in, being busy.

In reality, we’re not driving toward greater productivity. We’re driving toward burnout.

The presumption that more work means more productivity is a fallacy. According to a study of how athletes and musicians train, individuals only have a limited amount of concentration-time per day–about four to five hours. After that, you experience diminishing returns with every subsequent hour.

In translation? A longer workday doesn’t create more productivity. Forcing people to grind through extra hours pushes someone toward burnout. The same is true of a long workweek.

There are some exceptions, like delivery drivers or grocery store clerks. In those cases, a four-hour work period won’t sufficiently replace eight hours. But in most other positions, workers are not getting any added mileage from those four extra hours.

The 4-Day Workweek Experiment

To understand why, look to Microsoft Japan. The company tried a bold experiment: four-day workweeks, with three-day weekends every week, while still providing employees a five-day paycheck. The result? A 40% increase in productivity.

Cutting a whole workday out of the week (and losing eight hours from the usual workweek) required the company to do some streamlining. Time management became a priority. The company assisted in this process by cutting the standard meeting duration from an hour to thirty minutes and cutting standard attendance down to a five-employee maximum.

But the productivity boost came from a change in how employees work.

Shorter Workweeks Mean Better Prioritization

Because the Microsoft Japan employees no longer had a full day, they had to hyper-prioritize and cut out low-value activities, like bloated meetings, dawdling on social media, and less time on administrative filler work. This allowed more space for the most critical tasks, but it also allowed more space for creativity.

That said, the three-day weekend had to be an actual weekend. Otherwise, employees wouldn’t see any real benefit from an added day off and would instead work from home. Unfortunately, many of the technologies that have simplified working from home have also damaged work-life balance.

But when you tell people to unplug – actually unplug, meaning phones off and no email checks – employees get a real break after their hyper-prioritized, streamlined week. This offers them enough time to hit reset and return to work refreshed, ready to turn on hyper focus once again.

People Who Need Shorter Work Weeks

Of course, the company isn’t the only beneficiary of the shorter workweek. Employees clearly gain from such policies, and their benefits translate directly into positive results for their employers.

Think of it this way: employees are the backbone of your work. Without them, your company couldn’t get anything done. And if your employees are too fried to work effectively, they’re not going to do an outstanding job. Ultimately, the employee and the company suffer. Well-rested employees, though, are ready to give their all – and they’re more likely to be committed and engaged if they feel their company cares about them.

That said, thinking about a shorter workweek purely in terms of the number of hours worked is limiting. In reality, what happens outside the workplace is just as important as what happens inside. This is the space where employees go to rest, have fun, and feel refreshed. It’s also when employees do, well, pretty much anything that isn’t their job.

The time away isn’t being out of the office. It is time away from the stress of the job. And many segments of our society benefit.

Parents

When you’re a working parent, you have two full-time jobs: your job and parenting. Prioritizing work to support your family means sacrificing essential time with your kids, all while losing productivity due to stress and overwork. In fact, a quarter of parents – the hardest workers of all – spend only 34 minutes a day with their children. Quality time goes up on the weekends, but that leaves parents stringing time together from one weekend to the next.

And in the meantime, parents pay a premium for childcare. They also have to scramble for anything that might happen during the workweek, like doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher meetings, and youth sports. And if something happens to conflict? Welcome to even more work-related stress.

Cutting a day out of the workweek gives parents essential time to bond with and support their kids. Plus, reduced stress and reduced childcare costs allow parents to focus on more on work when they’re at work. Done right, they can also focus more on their children while at home.

That translates to healthier families, happier parents, and more productive, balanced employees.

Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs and creative people are the ones who come up with ideas that change our everyday lives for the better. But to develop those ideas and nurture them, entrepreneurs need time to pursue their side projects.

That just isn’t possible in the usual five-day grind.

By eliminating an extra day, entrepreneurs can dedicate all their attention to work while they’re at work. And when the workweek is over, they can shift gears and focus entirely on their passion project. This time away enables more time to get a good idea off the ground.

Anyone Who Wants to Thrive Instead of Grind

Ultimately, though, this is a model made for employees who want to thrive, not grind.

The truth is, employees want more from their job than just a paycheck. They want a good fit inside a positive culture. They want an opportunity to grow and the flexibility to work in a way that allows them to succeed – at work and away from work.

Instead, employers too often give them is a five-day 9-to-5 grind – often for no other reason than “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” They could do so much more.

The Shorter Workweek: Let’s Work Smarter

Isn’t it time to work smarter instead of working yourself into the ground?

Ultimately, a shorter workweek isn’t just a nice perk – it’s a job benefit for employees and a competitive advantage for companies. It’s time to change the workweek for the better. It’s time to find success in less.