“I would love to offer more flexibility, but I need people onsite to get work done.”
This is one of the most common statements I hear when managers attend one of my workplace flexibility seminars. For me, it can present a sticky situation since every work environment is different. While I don’t know your institution’s “face-time quotient” to ensure objectives are being met, I can ask one very simple question that can help move the work-life conversation along: what are your deliverables? To rephrase: what are the key results you expect from your employee(s)?
If we know the results that are expected, then we can properly analyze if flex or alternative arrangements are appropriate for a position. Herein lies the problem – both managers and employees don’t always know what the deliverables are, therefore, when a work-life conversation comes up, it becomes difficult to make a strong case for or against flexibility and even more difficult to create a work plan that seems to be win-win.
For most office jobs, being present isn’t a result, it’s a control mechanism. Research shows that if employees perceive that they have poor control over their job schedules, then their satisfaction goes down and they are more likely to leave. Not good for our deliverables, especially considering employee turnover costs money.
Possibly in an ideal world, all work environments would allow employees to come and go as they please, making their own schedules and work priorities. In order for that to happen, however, objectives would have to be properly and clearly laid out, employees would need to know with deep clarity the steps toward completing their projects, and employees would be results-oriented and motivated as independent workers. In many respects, this type of work world is mirrored in faculty culture and work expectations. Therefore, in higher education institutions, we have an opportunity for expanding this model to staff as well.
Let’s focus on results. We must define the core results that are required and measure the work-life/flexible work options requests against those key objectives. If the results are deliverables such as reports, admissions quotas, or processing a certain number of applications, then this should be easy. The metrics are linked to tangible and number specific results, which are relatively simple to track as deliverables. If results are in the programmatic realm, then the deliverables must shift towards defining how many programs/events need to be presented and the key metrics must be related to programmatic achievements.
When working with supervisors to help create a win-win work plan, you may encounter reluctance towards work-life initiatives. In order to assist them in understanding how the flexible work option will help their unit become more results-oriented and focused on deliverables, consider asking the supervisor the following questions:
1) What are the key results you need from this job/position? This shifts and focuses the conversation on specific results-based answers.
2) Is there only one way these tasks can be accomplished? Help managers see that there is often more than one way to accomplish a task. Allow the manager space to imagine alternative ways of accomplishing their deliverables. A similar question to ask is: Can this task only be accomplished on-site?
3) What is your concern regarding this proposed arrangement? Asking this will help in understanding if the concern is rooted in an entrenched belief about work-life arrangements, distrust of the employee, or other organizational issues that may be present.
4) Would you be willing to try this alternative arrangement for a 30-day period to gauge how well this proposed strategy will work? At some point you must ask to move forward, and a short-term trial period is often more palatable than a permanent change upfront.
Work-life balance initiatives should increase productivity; not hinder it. As work-life professionals, we need to help managers shift their paradigm and put trust in their employees’ ability to use their talent. The work will get done and deliverables will be achieved if you hire capable staff who are properly supported and entrusted to perform at their highest and best.
*Originally published in the College and University Work-Family Association Quarterly Review (Feb 2018). For more information visit www.cuwfa.org