Jennifer Sabatini Fraone is Assistant Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.
I am extremely excited about our new partnership with Fox 25 Boston to air a monthly Work-Life Wednesday segment. Work-life and work-family issues are truly universal, we are all striving for a fulfilling life in both the personal and professional realms. I hope that this new series will bring these discussions into the public domain so that we can share our struggles and our joys as we navigate this adventure called life.
My interview with Kim Carrigan today focused on one of my very favorite topics, Workplace Flexibility. I feel privileged to be working in this field during such exciting times. Momentum and energy are high and scholars, legislators, and workplace practitioners alike are striving to make flexibility the strategic new way of working. We are also Creating a Culture of Flexibility within our organizations, to increase the agility and engagement of our workforce and decrease costs.
I am happy to share some of the thoughts I put together for the interview today and encourage you to share your feedback!
While forward-thinking companies have been offering workplace flexibility programs for several decades, the practice has truly begun to gain momentum over the past year, as President and Mrs. Obama hosted a National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility at the White House and follow-up events have been occurring around the country. The next session is scheduled for May 4 in Cambridge, MA and will focus on Higher Education.
Why do you think the issue of flexibility is gaining so much attention?
Our workplaces and the workforce have changed dramatically since the industrial revolution, yet many of our organizations adhere to a rigid 9 to 5 mindset. That type of schedule just doesn’t work any more in our 24/7 global marketplace, and progressive organizations are recognizing this and using flexibility strategically to help them meet their goals and their customer’s needs.
It is not only mothers or fathers who need flexibility, older workers may need to stay in the workforce longer, but want to work differently. The millennials who are so used to being connected via technology are really demanding flexibility as they are so competent at working virtually and highly value their life outside of work.
Flexibility can take many forms: flex time, job-share, compressed workweek, telecommuting and more. I think people often assume that working flexibly means working less, but many arrangements offer a shift in hours vs. a reduction in the amount of time spent working. In fact, research shows that people who telecommute often put in more hours than their counterparts, because their drive to the office (and the stress involved) are eliminated.
What is the Boston College Center for Work & Family doing to help employers/companies offer these types of programs?
For over 20 years now, our Center has been assisting leading companies to shift not only their practices, but also their cultures so that they view employees as a whole person. We do this by providing their HR leaders with access to research and also helping them to apply this research in a way that helps support their employees and their businesses.
The companies that we work with recognize that in our increasingly knowledge and service-based economy, if we don’t have the loyalty, motivation and ingenuity of our employees, what do we really have? Not many people are out there making widgets anymore, our intellectual capital is our greatest asset and flexibility can help keep employees engaged and productive during these stressful times.
What about people who work for companies that don’t have a flexibility program in place? How would you advise them?
I always recommend that employees view asking for flexibility like a business proposal. A flexible work arrangement is not an entitlement, it is a new way of working that has to be a win-win for both the person and the organization. Start by doing some research into how other companies are using flexibility, our website is a good place to start: www.bc.edu/cwf
Prior to approaching your supervisor, really think about how your role can be accomplished fully using the flex arrangement you are proposing. If you recently had a negative review, you might want to improve your performance before asking. You need to be able to demonstrate how you are going to do your job with the new schedule, or if you are asking to telecommute, how you’ll do it working from home. Keep in mind that some jobs may be more difficult to do flexibly and be creative and realistic about your request. We recommend writing up a proposal and trying to anticipate what questions or concerns the manager might have.
Requesting a trial period is a good way to start, we usually recommend 2-3 months. Managers are fearful that if they say “Yes”, the arrangement has to go on forever, even if it is not working out. It’s then up to you to do your best to prove that the arrangement will work during that trial period. You’ve got to at least maintain if not improve your level of performance so you can go back to your supervisor with confidence and really make the case for continuing to work flexibly after the trial.
Many organizations have heard about flexibility but are cautious are unsure how to make it work for them. We encourage leaders to review the resources available on our website and contact us about corporate partnership opportunities. Here’s to Work-Life Wednesdays!