If spending your Friday afternoon reading on the beach sounds like the kind of job perk you are looking for, a recent Fast Company article will help you convince your boss to let you do it. “Flexible work hours,” according to the staffing firm Modis, “is the number one most desired benefit among workers.” But if working from home… or a coffee shop, or the library… for that matter, is considered such a benefit to workers and would likely lead to more productivity, why should convincing the boss be needed? I believe what is missing is trust. The sad reality is at the end of the day organizations talk about trusting their employees but most don’t practice what they preach.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many organizations today that offer flexible work schedules. Filter the Forbes 100 Best Companies to Work For by the telecommuting benefit and you will find that it is offered in 99 of the 100 best companies. Even many small businesses are doing their best to offer employees small, flexible changes where they can. Here at Villanova University, Father Peter Donohue, Villanova President, introduced summer hours that offer full-time staff half-day Fridays throughout the summer months, a perk some of us have come to call “Father Peter Fridays.” Search my Instagram and you will see that some of my #FatherPeterFridays, while spent on the beach, also resulted in productivity for my job.
If organizations are reaping benefits of increased employee satisfaction and productivity, should they be waiting for employees to request these changes and should the burden really fall on the employee to do the convincing?
If you are trying to convince your boss to let you work from home on Fridays, Villanova HRD’s own Assistant Professor, Dr. Katina Sawyer, is quoted in the same Fast Company article saying “You can improve your odds of getting a ‘yes’ if you share research that shows employees who have flexible work arrangements are actually more productive than those who don’t.”
“You can improve your odds of getting a ‘yes’ if you share research that shows employees who have flexible work arrangements are actually more productive than those who don’t.” --Dr. Katina Sawyer, Assistant Professor in the Graduate Programs in HRD at Villanova University
So what does the research say? A study published earlier this year in the American Sociological Review by sociology professor Phyllis Moen analyzed the effect of flexible work schedules on a group of IT employees. One group of employees served as the control group, operating under regular work schedules during the experiment. Another group was given the option to work wherever and whenever they wanted, so long as the completed their work projects on time and met their goals. Managers of the second group were trained and reminded to support the flexible working arrangements of their employees. And the results? As you would guess, the employees in the flexible work schedule group met their goals and completed their projects as reliably as the control group. What more, they were also less stressed and happier at both work and home and reported less interest in leaving the organization after both one and three years out from the experiment.
What I find most fascinating about this research is not the result. Giving your employees freedom to decide when and how they will get their work done could only have positive effects on their productivity, assuming of course you hired the right employees to begin with. What I find fascinating is that this experiment almost didn’t happen. In a NY Times article about this study, Phyliss Moen said, “We wanted to do a field experiment at a corporation that reduced its hours but realized nobody would let us do that. We thought they would be more willing to experiment with giving workers more control.” Even the company that eventually allowed the study wanted to remain anonymous in the published research.
Organizations today must truly learn to trust their employees. Flexible work schedules is not the issue; the issue is trusting that your employees will remain productive when you can’t see what they are doing. If the research tells us anything, it is that we shouldn’t be waiting for employees to convince us that they deserve flexible schedules. Rather, organizations should be taking the first step! Offering flexible work schedules should not be viewed as a perk to only the employee, but a perk for the organization as well. It is a win-win!
What are your thoughts? Comment below and tell us what you think!
Bethany J. Adams, MA is an Assistant Director in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Learn more about her here!