By Margery Weinstein
Your managers’ best workers are dependable, and complete their assignments in stellar fashion. They never worry about these employees getting their work done on time and in good condition, but when these workers ask for greater flexibility in determining their daily routines, your managers hesitate. Your company does not yet have an official flex-time policy, so your managers worry they could get into trouble, or their department could look bad. As trainers and Human Resources executives, is it time you offered managers the ability to reward dependable employees with flex-time work options? The rewards could be great, including increased retention levels and heightened employee engagement. But, on the flip side, you risk losing productivity if the program is not rolled out right.
Top 125 winners Wequassett Resort and Golf Club and Windstream share how they managed this balancing act to roll out a flex-time program that keeps employees both happy and productive.
As Long as the Work Gets Done
“Our approach with regard to work schedules is to allow department managers whatever flexibility they require to meet the needs of our employees as long as the company needs are met,” says Mark J. Novota, managing partner, Wequassett Resort and Golf Club. “We hire more people than typically budgeted to provide for greater flexibility in meeting employee requests while at the same time allowing us to meet our business demands.” Wequassett’s flex-time policy stems from its operating philosophy, which is focused on going “above and beyond” to do whatever it takes to please the customer, Novota explains. “If we expect this type of commitment from our employees, it is essential we treat them with care and consideration, so we place a major emphasis on balancing work and home life,” he says. “Our policy is informal, but the culture is strong enough to support this important component of the workplace.” To ensure the policy doesn’t infringe on productivity, or cause other concerns, the company encourages discussion and improvement of it—as it does for all of its programs. “We empower our team to implement this approach,” says Novota, “and our active and effective open-door policy ensures that concerns are elevated as necessary to guarantee solutions.”
The company feels it will get the best work out of its employees if they are leading a balanced life. They won’t be able to serve customers well, after all, if they are tired and their nerves are on edge. “We are very supportive of family and the balance of work and personal life,” Novota notes. “We work hard to understand what is important for each individual, knowing that for many, flexibility is very important.” While care is taken to ensure needed work gets done with quality, Wequassett tries its best to accommodate its workforce. “We rarely deny any request for time off or for unique work schedules, and we treat our employee base like they are members of our family,” says Novota. “We are flexible with appointments and errands, placing trust in our employees to come and go as they see fit as long as they successfully get their job done.”
With any progressive management program there is risk, and from time to time employees will take advantage of a benevolent employer. To prevent this from becoming a significant issue, Wequassett clearly states in its flex-time policy what is expected from both the employee and the organization. “We then put measurable goals in place, such as quotas, timelines, or whatever basic managerial tools are available to ensure productivity goals are met,” says Novota. “We like to use incentives that are geared toward achieving results that will carefully consider the time commitment that is agreed upon. If problems persist, we use individual performance plans to get things back on track, and we also benefit from the use of peer reviews.”
Formal Requests=Continued Productivity
Wequassett’s leadership committee, which meets weekly, considers any special flex-time requests and provides immediate feedback. Its Human Resources department works with each department to field these special requests and figure out a way to keep the employee doing a great job while accommodating his or her lifestyle needs. “Above all else, the culture drives us to do the right thing, and we hire people who understand what our expectations are to prevent a potential disconnect with our team. In most cases, this is enough to maintain success in creating a positive working environment,” says Novota.
The company has found that it’s worth working with its employees to find a solution to work-life balance issues. Not only do you hold on longer to a valuable employee that way, but you also avert a looming problem. “One of the most important things to understand is that if you’re not accommodating your employees’ needs, they’re likely to find a way around things anyway, which, in turn, will lead to mutual dissatisfaction,” Novota points out. Novota recommends that companies thinking of rolling out a flex-time program teach managers the importance of getting the cooperation of the flex-time employee’s co-workers. “It is important to get buy-in from co-workers to ensure teamwork, prevent resentment, and to forge a supportive environment,” he says.
As accommodating as Wequassett tries to be, it doesn’t let itself get taken advantage of, and will put its foot down when necessary. “If we can’t meet a certain request, we are honest and don’t go down a road that inevitably will lead to problems,” says Novota. “We hire with attrition in mind and measure goals with performance indexes, quotas, incentives, and other similar tools to help make employee flexibility a win-win for the organization and the employee.”
Prior Approval Needed
At Windstream, managers have the discretion to design and implement flexible work programs that are most effective for their individual work groups given their business requirements, according to Training Coordinator Kate McConkey. To ensure managers are consistent, where necessary, in the administration of flexible work programs, McConkey says they follow certain guidelines, including:
Flexible work programs are available to all full-time hourly non-exempt and salaried employees at Windstream, excluding some management personnel and employees in certain other jobs where daily contribution and availability are critical to the success of the company’s business. “HR and management created this policy to meet the employees’ needs,” McConkey notes. “To ensure appropriate staffing levels are maintained, work schedules must have prior management approval.”
McConkey notes that many of Windstream’s work groups are direct customer support areas that must be available in accordance with customers’ needs, and some work groups already have 24x7 coverage and variable workweeks. “Managers should receive approval for the flexible work programs they implement from the vice president of their area to verify business needs will continue to be met,” she says. “Participating employees must continue to exhibit cooperation in and commitment to maintaining optimum support and service levels.”
Offering flex-time is a great way to keep employees satisfied and engaged enough to continue to do stellar work for your company. Doing it right, though, requires care. Corporate productivity expert and Training columnist, Jason Womack of The Womack Company, shares some tricks of the trade.