Employee Flexibility: Why Aren’t They Happy?

July 31, 2016

By switchandshift.com

Employees are hungry for flexibility.

When they get it, however, it’s not always the dream benefit they thought it would be. After all, some of the best ideas happen on walks, in the shower or at a kid’s ballgame. Taking time to jot ideas down reduces employee stress. But mixing personal and professional lives without guidelines can also cause stress. People need recovery time, diverse experiences and rest to have ideas in the first place. In fact, a MobileIron Gen M survey found that 58 percent of employees said they felt guilty mixing their work and personal lives.

It might seem counterintuitive to create rigid rules around flexibility, but you need structure to make it work.

Here’s how:

Define What Employee Flexibility Means

Lay out clear policies, and communicate with employees tips to help them integrate (or separate) personal and professional time. Your employees won’t know what flexibility means to your organization unless you tell them. Does your flexible culture allow employees to come and go as they please? Or should they be available during set hours?

A survey of 1,087 employees and 116 HR professionals released in February of last year by Workplace Trends found 65 percent of employees say their manager expects them to be reachable outside of office hours. Does that mean flexible workers are always on-call? Let employees know what’s OK and how they should communicate their committed working hours. Hold everyone accountable for following these policies. Even leaders need to let employees know when they’re in, when they’re out and when they’re available. Clear policies and expectations will help all employees understand their boundaries and minimize guilt.

Be Transparent About Time (from the Top Down)

The Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index Survey found that about a quarter of the 2,062 surveyed employees regularly work after the standard workday ends, and about four out of 10 work at least one weekend every month. Why are some employees compelled (or motivated) to be “always on”? It could be because they love their work, and find fulfillment in pursuing work goals when and where they want. Or it could be because of unhealthy pressures and cultural norms at their employer. It’s critical to know which it is before assuming it’s true engagement or impending burnout (The best way to know is to ask).

If you find it’s closer to burnout than nirvana, it could be that leaders are setting a bad example. A Project: Time Off survey shows 46 percent of managers said they stay connected to the job during time away, which is fine if it’s fun, but not so great if it’s stressful. I never bring my laptop on vacations, but I do think about my work while on the beach. It’s my life’s work!

At the very least, leaders need to set clear examples to let employees know they can use their flexible time; that’s what it’s there for. Science tells us people need freethinking time to be happy and fulfilled. Trying harder and harder for too long usually leads to decreased performance. To make this work, leaders and managers need to be open about their personal priorities. If they change their working hours once a week to attend soccer practice, they need to alert the team. That way, employees won’t feel like they have to hide personal commitments. They can make the most of their flexible schedules and be more engaged while at work.

Focus on Goals and Results, Not Face Time

Employees often feel like they’re cheating their employer when they switch between personal and professional time. So for flexible working hours to succeed, you need to focus on goals instead of hours on the clock. Forget the 8-hour workday. People can work where and when it is best for them, as long as they get their work done, meet their deadlines, and achieve their goals. Unfortunately, many employers fall short when it comes to setting clear goals with employees. According to a Wrike survey, 47 percent of employees said deadlines that moved around a lot were stressful, while 49 percent cited unrealistic goals for projects as a source of major stress. Regularly meet with employees to set goals and deadlines and to check on their progress. Keep communication open so everyone’s on the same page and comfortable with their workload.

With specific policies and goals, you and your employees will reap the full benefits of flexibility.

And here’s a crazy idea… Just like you celebrate the inventor who worked late or on the weekend to bring something amazing to life at your company, as you should, celebrate the person who dropped off the grid, chilled out, and came back refreshed.

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