(Check out my blog this week at Fast Company.com–$10 Gas! The National Work+Life Flex Solution)
Ohio state government employees are learning the hard way that workplace flexibility must work for them personally and for the business, or it won’t continue. Their flex-gone-wrong scenario is a cautionary tale for all organizations. For flexibility to succeed, it must be a process-based strategy that considers each person’s unique work and personal realities, not a one-size-fits-all policy or benefit.
What happened in Ohio? According to a recent New York Times article, fifteen years ago the state of Ohio implemented a “flextime” policy to reduce rush-hour traffic in Columbus. But today, according to, Ron Sylvester, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, “There are some offices downtown where on Fridays you could roll a grenade down the central aisle where the cubicles are and you would have no casualties because the place is empty…We are simply trying to ensure that from 8:00 to 5:00 pm we are appropriately staffed to take care of the public’s needs and the needs of other state agencies.”
And he’s right. It’s not okay that, “too often departments were closed, phones went unanswered and customer service windows were left unattended, especially on Fridays, as state workers worked only four days a week.”
That’s what can happen when flex is a standardized policy or benefit. It is seen by employees as an entitlement, rather than a strategy for managing their work+life fit in a way that meets their personal needs as well as the needs of the business. Individuals check a box on a form for “compressed workweek” without ever having to step back and think about whether or not working four, ten-hour days with one day a week off would be compatible with their job. No one sits down with his or her manager to determine the best day not to be in the office given the other types of flexibility in the group. Not everyone can be out on Friday.