Workplace flexibility is a fairly simple concept.  It involves adapting when, where and how employees work to better meet individual and business needs.

But while it’s clear that more flexible workplaces enjoy a number of benefits – including improved engagement, retention and employee satisfaction – making flexible workforce strategies a reality has proven quite difficult for employers.

Where does the disconnect occur?  This is what the Society for Human Resource Management’s Executive Roundtable on Workplace Flexibility (held in September, 2010) aimed to find out.  The event gathered leading experts on the subject, including HR practitioners, academicians, researchers and thought leaders.  Together, they examined the context and climate for workplace flexibility, discussed its benefits and identified the greatest barriers to increased flexibility in the workplace.  Here is a summary of the key themes, as well as a link to the full SHRM Executive Roundtable on Workplace Flexibility report:

Key Themes

Although progress has been made in the past decade, much more needs to be done. Our society is more aware of workplace flexibility, and employers are beginning to adopt the practice.  However, in today’s business environment, workplace flexibility remains more a concept than a reality.

Workplace flexibility produces a host of benefits. Employers with flexible workplaces are better able to attract employees and increase employee engagement, satisfaction and motivation.  Their employees are more productive and have lower absenteeism rates.  In fact, workplace flexibility can be a source of real competitive advantage.

Key issues and barriers limit workplace flexibility. Among those cited were:

  • New vocabulary and language used to describe workplace flexibility doesn’t exist yet.
  • The cultural perception of flexibility must be changed, so that job “commitment” isn’t defined by being physically present.
  • Lack of support by business executives for implementing flexibility strategies.
  • Lack of critical mass to change the paradigm for workplace flexibility.
  • Lack of trust in business relationships between employers and employees.
  • Lack of a “one size fits all” flexibility solution for every worker at every company.

Although barriers to workplace flexibility exist, so do potential solutions to most of these issues. For example, one key barrier cited in the roundtable was a “lack of support among many business executives and line managers.”  To gain support, HR must build a compelling business case for workplace flexibility, focusing on bottom-line ROI.  The Executive Summary addresses additional solutions for removing implementation barriers.

HR can leverage its role to promote workplace flexibility. HR professionals can drive flexibility in their organizations by acting as change agents, starting internal conversations on the topic and exploring how workplace flexibility can support their organizations’ overall business strategies.

Workplace flexibility will eventually become “the new normal.” At some point in the future, workplace flexibility will simply be a normal and accepted part of how all organizations operate.

Snelling Staffing Services – Flexible Workforce Solutions for Employers Nationwide

For 60 years, we’ve grounded ourselves in the fundamentals of effective recruiting and staffing.  Our portfolio of services is designed to be flexible – so you can adapt to your organization’s changing needs and take workforce flexibility from concept to reality.  Contact your local Snelling office today to learn more about our People + Flexible Workforce Solutions.