What to Do When You Want to Give Your Team Flexibility, but Your Organization Doesn’t

Data shows that most employees want to work at flexible workplaces. With the global labor shortage ensuing, the competition for diverse talent has never been so intense, and flexibility is a competitive advantage for leaders. Even if your organization does not promote flexibility, leaders can model three things – measure outputs vs. inputs, have clear expectations for work hours, and trust their employees to manage their time versus watching how long they are working.

The modern workplace has mostly stayed the same since its originality in the 1950s post-World War II era. Back then, men were primarily the providers, and women were seen as full-time caregivers, nurses, or educators. The assumption that workers had support for childcare and household duties was baked into the construction of the modern workplace. Fast forward 70 years, and that model doesn’t work (if it ever did).

Research shows that flexibility strategies like the four-day workweek boost productivity, improve retention, and increase access to diverse talent. In addition, given the current global labor shortage, this flexibility is more attractive to caregivers, younger employees, those from different socioeconomic classes, and those with disabilities.

According to Four-Day Week, organizations with successful implementation take into account the differing preferences of their employees with the flexibility to co-create their work schedule. LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence survey, which surveyed 19,000 workers in 2022, found that for 54% of people, the four-day workweek is among their top three priorities regarding workplace benefits. Support is especially strong for the younger workers, with 62% of millennials and Gen Z supporting the shift. The four-day week was also more prevalent among women (57%) than men (51%).

Employees are voluntarily quitting over work flexibility concerns, according to a recent GoodFirms study. The study found that 70% of H.R. manager respondents pointed to flexibility as a reason for resignations, the most cited cause in the survey.

Since modern workers are challenging the “modern” workplace rigidity and voting with their feet, leaders must listen and shift to changing employee needs. Workers increasingly expect organizations to be more flexible and lead with trust versus micromanagement.

If you, like many leaders, want more flexibility in the workplace, but your organization’s policies don’t support flexibility yet, consider leading by example:

  1. Measure outputs vs. inputs.
  2. Have clear expectations for performance.
  3. Build a culture of trust.

#1: Measure Outputs vs. Inputs

You’re making a mistake if you’re measuring employee performance by when they arrive and when they leave, how long they’re in their cubicle, or how busy their calendar is. Those activities rarely lead to high performance and are highly correlated with a low-trust environment.

Modern workers want to be treated with respect and expect to be trusted to get their work done when they should. For example, there are better times for peak performance for caregivers than early morning meetings and late evening social outings. Today, 56% of U.S. workers have care responsibilities outside traditional work. Managing work and caretaking is taking a toll on workers, leading to lost productivity, burnout, and absenteeism. Caregiving is the number two reason behind retirement that employees leave the workforce.

Additionally, for the 20-25% percent of the population that has a disability, the challenges of in-person environments often are taxing and limit performance. Virtual work and accommodations for doctor’s appointments and support can boost performance by trusting workers to do their job mentally and physically at optimal performance. Leaders permit people to do their best work by providing flexibility for necessary care.

If you need help figuring out where to create more flexibility in a seemingly inflexible work environment, start by adjusting how you measure performance. Set up or revisit:

Goals and Objectives: Setting goals and objectives for employees is an effective way to measure their work output. Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound (SMART), and aligned with the organization’s objectives. Regular reviews can then be conducted to evaluate how well employees meet these goals.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Measurable values demonstrating how effectively an employee achieves critical business objectives. Examples of KPIs include sales figures, customer satisfaction ratings, or the number of projects completed within a specific timeframe.

Project Status Reports: Use status reports to measure work done towards outcomes and regularly review progress together. If there are issues or obstacles, be proactive in managing them together.

Peer Reviews: Peer reviews or 360 reviews measure work outputs versus inputs. This involves having employees assess each other’s work quality and productivity, which can provide valuable insights into an employee’s performance and identify areas for improvement.

Employee Self-Evaluation: Employee self-evaluation can help measure both inputs and outputs. Employees can evaluate their work inputs, such as their time on specific tasks, and outcomes, such as their accomplishments or completed projects.

#2: Have Clear Expectations for Performance 

As a leader, you need to lead by example. If you ask your team members to work more flexibly, you must demonstrate that you are willing to do the same. Be flexible with your schedule and show that you trust your team members to work independently.

Before making any changes, you must understand your organization’s policies and procedures. Take the time to read through the employee handbook and any other relevant documents. Then, talk to HR and your supervisor to clearly understand what is allowed and what is not. This will help you determine the flexibility you can offer your team members.

Communication is critical when introducing changes to your team. Be clear and transparent about the changes you are making and why you are making them. Ensure your team members understand the expectations and guidelines for working flexibly. Encourage open communication and feedback from your team members to ensure that the changes you are making are effective.

Start each week’s work with priority setting and end each week with a feedback loop discussing how expectations were met, exceeded, or not met. When leaders are clear with expectations, it is easier for workers to meet them. As leaders, we often have expectations in our heads but need to be more precise with our team. Refrain from assuming they know what good looks like – ask them their priorities, give feedback, and modify the plan so that all parties agree on critical tasks and expected completion.

“To be clear is to be kind” – Brene Brown. 

#3: Build a Culture of Trust

Flexibility only works when trust is present. Ideally, employees manage their time versus watching how long they spend to complete their work. If outputs are appropriately measured and expectations are clear, this creates an environment for trust to thrive.

Trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose. Leaders that lead with trust are vulnerable to their weaknesses and mistakes. They model trustworthiness on the team and give frequent feedback versus waiting for performance review time.

There are many benefits associated with increased flexibility and trust.

  1. Increased productivity: Flexibility can help employees to balance their personal and professional responsibilities better, reducing stress and allowing them to focus more effectively on their work.
  2. Improved employee retention: Offering flexibility can make employees feel more valued and appreciated, which can help to reduce turnover and improve employee retention rates.
  3. Enhanced job satisfaction: Flexibility can improve employee satisfaction by giving them more control over their work schedule and allowing them to work in a way that best suits their needs and preferences.
  4. Expanded talent pool: Flexibility can also make attracting and retaining top talent easier by allowing them to work in a way that suits their lifestyle and preferences.
  5. Reduced absenteeism: By offering flexibility, organizations can reduce absenteeism by making it easier for employees to manage personal responsibilities without taking time off.
  6. Increased diversity and inclusion: Offering flexibility can help to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace by making it easier for employees with different needs and preferences to work and succeed within the organization.

Considering these benefits, trust is often created through subtle yet intentional, consistent experiences. Therefore, having your team’s back and checking in with them proactively is critical to ensure they understand expectations versus assuming they aren’t working.

If your organization resists change, starting small and being patient is essential. You may only be able to implement some of the changes you want after some time. Begin with minor changes, such as allowing employees to work from home one day a week or adjusting work schedules to better accommodate personal needs. Be patient and demonstrate the benefits of these changes. Once you have shown the value of flexibility, you can slowly introduce more changes. Start by measuring outputs versus inputs, setting clear expectations for what good looks like for performance, and leading with trust.

References

 Global 4-day week pilot was a huge success, organizers say | CNN Business, https://bit.ly/3oEOb7I

4 Day Work Week Benefits (indeed.com), https://bit.ly/3C6zGN6

ReportCover_Layout 1 (fourdayweek.ie), https://bit.ly/3IRnO5l

Could the 4-day work week take hold? Middle managers’ uprising has begun (linkedin.com), https://bit.ly/43EBSaz

Survey: Flexibility top of mind as quit rates soar | HR Dive, https://bit.ly/3WGM8gb

Julie Kratz, Next Pivot Point
Chief Engagement OfficeratNext Pivot Point| Website| + posts

Julie Kratz is the Founder and Chief Engagement Officer of Next Pivot Point. She is a highly acclaimed TEDx speaker and inclusive leadership trainer who led teams and produced results in corporate America. After experiencing many career "pivot points" of her own, she started her own speaking business to help leaders be more inclusive. Promoting diversity, inclusion, and allyship in the workplace, Julie helps organizations foster more inclusive environments. She is a frequent keynote speaker, podcast host, and executive coach. She holds an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and is a Certified Master Coach and a certified unconscious bias trainer. Her books include Pivot Point: How to Build a Winning Career Game Plan, ONE: How Male Allies Support Women for Gender Equality, and Lead Like an Ally: A Journey Through Corporate America with Strategies to Facilitate Inclusion, and her children's book Little Allies, and Allyship in Action: 10 Strategies for Living Inclusively. She can be reached at [email protected].

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