HR: Flex Work Environments Can Benefit All — and Nominate Your HR Pro of 2014

Jill Lehman, the vice president of administration and chief people officer for Muncie-based Ontario Systems, was the 2013 Ogletree Deakins Human Resources Professional of the Year. She penned a web exclusive column for BizVoice about the benefits of a flex work environment.

(NOTE: Nominations for the 2014 award are being accepted through March 3. The award will be presented April 30 at the Indiana Chamber’s 50th Annual Human Resources Conference. Additional details and nomination form are available here.)

Lehman writes:

We all make New Year resolutions, usually to lose weight, clean out the attic or something else of the same ilk. But this year, I propose we consider a business resolution geared toward increased engagement, retention and productivity among employees.

All three can be achieved at once with a more flexible work environment; that is, giving your staff more control over their work time and schedules. That might be a scary thought, but I assure you the advantages of the practice outweigh the drawbacks for many businesses.

Workplace flexibility makes the most sense for executives who believe in three principles:
1)    Creativity, innovative spirit and quality are more important than location
2)    Associates need to be energized, engaged and successful both at work and at home
3)    Energy leads to improved morale, increased productivity, better service and reduced turnover

Traditionally, flex has meant variable hours or part-time work. But today, we’ve evolved to discussing an effective workplace where realistic work patterns are agreed upon by employers and employees in an effort to meet the needs of both. Three approaches are typically considered:

Formal Flex.  Formal work arrangements (paid time off, leave of absence, transitional schedules and full-time telework, for example) tracked and managed by supervisors and human resources, create a framework for employees to arrange their own schedule.

Informal Flex.  Ensuring efficiency without formal arrangements between associates and supervisors might include slight modifications to work hours or location.

Occasional Flex.  Occasional, brief flex time as life happens, starting with an associate’s timely request to their supervisor to remain at home with good cause. Each approach has a similar set of risks and obstacles: Will individuals abuse the system and make life harder for others in the organization? Will business be disrupted? Will there be a perception of favoritism attributed to supervisors? Admittedly, some operations simply may not be suited to broad approach flex work arrangements. Weighing the risk and reward is an important exercise.

But when you consider that most workers spend more time at their job than with their family, it’s a risk worth exploring. Workplace flexibility should be designed to create an environment recognizing that commitment, while supporting associates as they balance their work and personal lives.

For more information on workplace flexibility, organizations such as World at Work, the Society of Human Resources and The Families and Work Institute have additional information including surveys and guidance on crafting programs.