The flexible work arrangement is popular among talent and leaders, alike. It’s a great benefit to offer that attracts and retains the best talent.
However, not all flexible work options are created equal. While most companies have flexible work programs in place in order to support work-life balance, in reality, employees often still feel punished when they use these programs. In fact, an April 2018 University of Michigan study found that nearly 40% of employees say it’s unlikely they’ll get ahead in their career if they take time off for personal reasons. Feeling like you can’t use your benefits creates a lot of job strain and tension in the workplace.
Unused vacation time is another issue. According to the State of American Vacation 2018 report from Project: Time Off, 52% of Americans have unused vacation.
Your company culture might be perpetuating flexibility bias — the belief that if employees take time off or use flexible work schedules, they will be viewed unfavorably and struggle to advance.
Here’s how to put an end to flexibility bias:
Teach leadership to ‘leave loudly’
The chief executive of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand, Robbert Rietbroek, asks his leaders to “leave loudly” to encourage employees to do the same. This is as simple as announcing to your employees that you’re leaving early to run an errand.
This idea of leaving loudly does not permit chronic absenteeism. It actually ensures that hard working employees feel like they can have a personal life. The “leave loudly” policy is family friendly and puts your employees first. It’s perfect for those times when your staff needs to pick up their children or take care of their elderly relatives.
When you adopt this policy, you’re sending a clear message to employees: If it’s OK for your boss to leave early, then it’s OK for all levels to do the same.
Create promotion checklists
The bias against using flexible work benefits stokes fears in employees of all levels. They worry that they’ll be perceived as slackers or uncommitted if they actually work from home every now and then or if they take their vacation.
This bias creates work martyrs — employees who overwork because they think they’re the only ones who can do their jobs. They want leadership to notice this. Plus, they’re stuck on the idea that they’re too valuable to the company to take time off.
While it’s important for employees to feel needed and valued in their role, work martyrdom is a step too far. Work martyrs tend to struggle with disconnecting from work while they’re on vacation, or they overly stress about coming back to an impossible workload following their time off. This causes employees to burnout quickly.
To prevent work martyrdom and eliminate flexibility bias, set clear expectations. This way, employees aren’t guessing and working themselves too hard. Detail each career track for every role within your company. Then, distribute checklists to every employee so they see what they need to do to earn a potential promotion.
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Focus on company-wide flexibility
Often, the need for flexibility is seen as a “mother’s issue.” Traditionally speaking, women were typically more inclined to pick children up from school and daycare. But times have changed. In fact, fathers are experiencing the same degree of frustration when it comes to work flexibility bias. They’re also struggling with maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
They even face a “daddy stigma,” according to the State of America’s Fathers report from MenCare. Fathers experience or fear discrimination when attempting to balance both child care and work life. This is just another reason why the bias against work flexibility needs to end.
Parents obviously enjoy the benefit of leaving work early or working remotely, but the simple truth is that everyone deserves a sense of flexibility. Parents, caregivers, and everyone in between can experience the many benefits of flexibility.
Collaborate with employees from all levels to establish a clear, fair company policy for flexible work arrangements that caters to everyone’s needs. But don’t just add the policy to your employee handbook and be done with it. Actively promote flexibility as a benefit employees need to use. This sends a clear message: You want your employees to live their best life, both at work and at home.