How Do 63% of Companies Without a Flex Strategy Survive?

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(Go to my Fast Company blog for “U.S. Congress Introduces Flexibility Act! But Where’s the Next Prez?”)

How would you answer the question, “Work-life flexibility in my company is a…” Here’s what the respondents to the 2007 Work+Life Fit Reality Check had to say:

Only 37% of respondents felt their organizations saw flexibility as a business strategy for retaining talent, managing the workload, and growing the business. For the rest, flexibility was either a “perk,” or it wasn’t offered.

How do the other 63% of organizations survive with flexibility that’s a “perk” or without any flexibility at all? In a 24/7, high tech, global work reality where non-linear careers are increasingly the norm, where there are clients across time zones, and where technology has eliminated the boundaries around work and the rest life (especially for younger employees) it’s increasingly hard to imagine.

Why does it matter whether flexibility is a strategy or a perk, as long as an employer supports it? Because a flexibility strategy has traction inside the day-to-day operations of a business, whereas flexibility as a perk is something that sits over on the side to be pulled off of the shelf for the “unique” individuals who can’t work like everyone else. A flexibility strategy requires a wholesale rethinking of how work is done, and how careers are managed. A perk means trying to fit flexibility into an inherently inflexible workplace. It doesn’t work.

Interestingly, certain demographic groups were significantly more likely than others to report that their company views work+life flexibility as a strategy:

• Men (41%), more likely than women (32%)—Why? Perhaps because historically for women the issues of work+life and flexibility have been primarily personal and related to caregiving. This isn’t as much the case for men (although that is changing), so perhaps it is easier for them to focus more on the business outcomes beyond the personal benefits.

• College grads (41%), more likely than HS Grads (34%), and those making more than $75K (41%) than those making between $24-$35K (23%)—Why? Flexibility has made greater inroads in service industries especially in fields such as accounting where the shortage of talent is driving the strategic use of flexibility. That’s not to say employees in other industries don’t require flexibility, but the recognition that flexibility is a key growth strategy hasn’t taken hold.

Flexibility is not a perk. Flexibility is a key growth strategy for every organization. So far only a third of companies have recognized and communicated that fact to their employees. The goal for the coming year will be to move that needle higher in the 2008 Reality Check.

How do you think the 63% of companies without a comprehensive flexibility strategy survive?

  • Amen, amen, and amen!!! I don’t know how many times I can say that – I wish I could say it in different languages. This is one of the top 3-4 policy issues in the U.S., I think. Dear work world, if you want “A” players to stay, you better figure out how to make it worth their while.

    I am actively involved with three start-up companies in my city (none of which I ever intend to run), am active in the arts, and maintain my professional credentials (which involves research and publishing). And none of that thrills my employer, and that’s too bad.

    The value that I can deliver in my current position is far greater than what my organization could afford/attract, so the trade-off of flexibility for performance seems obvious. But we have a big failure of metrics in the workplace, i.e., if the metric you use to determine success in a position = “butt in seat” then Houston, we have a problem. If I can produce innovations and efficiencies that you would normally not achieve (and can’f otherwise afford), and can do it in 6 hours a day, why do you care what I do with the other two?