The other day the Society for Human Resource Management’s national conference brochure arrived. I opened the front cover and read:
“…This year’s conference is programmed to provide the most comprehensive line-up of thought-leaders, practitioners, and executives to interact with you on some of the most critical issues facing HR professionals today, with topics covering such key issues are:
- Talent Management and Staffing
- Employee Engagement and Morale
- Legislative Compliance
- Communication Strategies
- Layoffs, Downsizing and RIFs
- Compensation and Benefits
- Business Competencies
- Leadership/Career Development
- Healthcare Strategy and Reform
- Continuity Planning
- Global HR”
“Great,” I thought, “I wonder who’s presenting on work+life flexibility as a powerful strategy to help organizations and individuals tackle these challenges and opportunities.” Given the broad business impacts of strategic flexibility it made sense that it would have prominent placement in the program.
So I looked through the printed conference brochure. Workplace flexibility. Nothing. Work-life flexibility. Nothing. Work flexibility, or perhaps Flexible Work Arrangements. Nothing. I was confused.
Let’s go to the computer. Maybe it’s mentioned online in the more detailed conference agenda. I started with the large, plenary or “Mega” sessions. Hmmm, nothing again. Even in the mega sessions that cover issues where flexibility is very relevant–engagement, HR trends, leadership, retention, wellness, change management, motivation and balance—it is not mentioned …. Keep looking.
Go to the concurrent sessions. Searching…Searching…Searching. Finally, buried in over 100 concurrent sessions held across three days, I found one presentation that specifically discusses flexibility. It’s under the International HR section and is entitled, “ Flexible Work Arrangements to Promote Organizational Diversity,” or how the increased use of flexible work arrangements expanded the talent pool in India. Okay, one is better than none, but that’s it.
What’s going on? Some may argue, “But, Cali, you aren’t counting the two concurrent presentations in the Employment Law and Legislation sessions that deal with caregiver discrimination and FMLA Jeopardy.” No, because that’s not what I was looking for. I was searching for the inclusion of work+life flexibility in the broader discussions of how companies and people will thrive and compete in a post-recession landscape.
For work+life flexibility to become part of a business’ day-to-day operating model, Human Resources can’t be the sole owner and advocate. A majority of the top 100 CFOs interviewed for a survey that we co-sponsored with BDO Seidman in March, 2008 concurred. They believed that direct line involvement was necessary for flexibility to succeed.
That being said, HR is a critical partner in the development, implementation and execution of a flexibility strategy. It is often the first place that the need hits the radar screen as a solution to address talent and employee work+life fit issues. HR is a critical entry point for the discussion of the broader strategic applications within the business. This is why the fact that there was only one presentation specifically discussing flexibility buried deep in the concurrent sessions of the national conference the Society for Human Resource Management gives me pause.
It doesn’t bode well for increasing the effectiveness of work+life flexibility inside of organizations. In other words, many organizations have formal flexible work arrangement policies, but flexibility isn’t an effective part of the way the business and its people operate day-to-day. This is unfortunate because flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed is more important than ever.
Moving beyond confusion and shock, I began to ponder why work+life flexibility had such a minor role in the SHRM conference agenda? Here are some of my hypotheses. Please feel free to chime in and share yours:
- SHRM doesn’t think it is important. (I find that hard to believe, especially since in May,2009 SHRM released an entire policy statement on flexible work arrangements).
- SHRM thinks it’s important, but only enough to warrant one concurrent session solely focused on talent applications. (Again, I find this hard to believe but perhaps SHRM doesn’t see or understand the direct strategic relevance beyond a programmatic or legal application even though flexibility does directly address most if not all of the critical issues targeted in the agenda).
- SHRM thinks flexibility is important, but doesn’t really know what more can be done beyond the policy, program and benefit implementation of formal flexible work arrangements and government mandated regulations. (This is the theory that makes the most sense to me. It is a matter of mindset and perspective. If SHRM doesn’t think flexibility is part of the strategic conversation related to engagement, creating great workplaces, leadership, retention, change, global talent, and motivation, what more is there to do beyond implementing a policy and understanding the legal issues? )
But that’s just it, there is still so much to be done to move flexibility from a “nice to have” policy or program to a core strategic lever. This is why its exclusion from the SHRM conference agenda is a disappointing missed opportunity. HR professionals won’t leave the conference:
- Understanding how to make the business case for greater flexibility to their line leadership.
- Knowing how to support and promote broader change management efforts necessary to make flexibility part of the operating model.
- Prepared help leaders and employees understand their roles in creating win-win innovative solutions able to respond to changes in market climate, and
- Able to articulate how the strategic, business-based application of flexibility can help their organizations and employees successfully manage the challenges and opportunities in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.
Do you think work+life flexibility should be more prominently featured in the SHRM conference agenda? Why do you think it’s not? What do you think this missed opportunity means for the advancement of strategic flexibility inside of organizations?