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Apr 8, 2011

Remember that flexible schedule work initiative over at Best Buy, known as ROWE, or results oriented work environment? My TLNT colleague and HR pro Lance Haun wrote last summer that although he loved the idea, he questioned if it would really catch on.

Well, here’s another study that looks at that ROWE initiative over at Best Buy, and guess what? It seems to be working – at least in the corporate offices of Best Buy.

Here’s a story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Flex scheduling at Best Buy Co. Inc. is a hit with its employees.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by two University of Minnesota sociologists who concluded that giving workers the choice of when and where to work — as long as goals are met — makes them happier at work and home.

Turnover dropped 45 percent across all employee groups, the researchers found, when workers were allowed to match work schedules with home schedules.

Indeed, fewer men and women decided to “opt out” of the workplace for reasons of child care once they could make their own schedules. Workers without children also benefited from the program.”

Sounds good, right? Well, I tracked down more on this study about Best Buy and ROWE in Science Daily, and they had additional details about the research by sociology professors Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen. As Science Daily said:

ROWE redirected the focus of employees and managers towards measurable results and away from a set work schedule and location. Employees could routinely change when and where they worked without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one. Moen and Kelly examined whether the initiative affects work-family conflict, whether schedule control plays a role in these effects, and whether work demands (including long hours) moderate the initiative’s effects on work-family outcomes…

The research also demonstrates positive impact of the ROWE initiative for the company. The researchers found that ROWE reduced turnover by 45% — after controlling for multiple factors like job level, organizational tenure, job satisfaction, income adequacy, job security, and other turnover intentions. Specifically, only 6% of ROWE participants left the company during the eight month study period while 11% of the comparison group left. ROWE also reduced turnover intentions among those remaining with the corporation.

“By showing that a policy initiative like ROWE can reduce turnover, this research moves the ‘opting out’ argument — whether one chooses family over work — from a private issue to an issue of how employers can change the workplace to better meet the needs of employees,” Moen says.”

OK, it’s great to find that ROWE really does work well in the corporate offices of Best Buy. It’s also good to see some objective data that backs up the early hype. It seems like critics were wrong, at least in how successful ROWE would ultimately be for Best Buy’s headquarters staff.

But there’s still the nagging issue that Lance Haun pointed out  – whether ROWE could be used in a much broader work context beyond a corporate office environment. Maybe it works well in the headquarters of Best Buy, he observed, but that doesn’t mean it is something that can be adapted to a broader variety of workplaces.

Any situation where timing at your place of business is an issue is going to be unfriendly to a true ROWE implementation. What does that include? How about manufacturing when thousands of employees are working in unison to ship a product? How about retail when you need your doors open and appropriate staffing levels for the traffic you will receive at various times during the day? How about a doctor’s office when part of the job is actually being there to see patients? Sometime, having employees physically at work is a legitimate and desired result.”

So, the good news is that there is data that shows how a results oriented work environment CAN produce significant, measurable, and positive workplace results — at least in Best Buy’s Minnesota headquarters. Does that mean it will work for you and your organization? Well, THAT would seem to be a good question for another research study somewhere.

Of course, there’s more going on this week than Best Buy’s flexible work experiment. Here are other HR and workplace items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • India’s workforce problems. Remember how all those American jobs were getting outsourced to India? Remember how India was churning out all those students with great math and science skills? Well, things are not as rosy for India’s workforce as we were led to believe, according to The Wall Street Journal. The WSJ headline says it all: “India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire.” And does this sound familiar? “Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What’s more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.”
  • Reference checks and health care for families. If you don’t read Kris Dunn’s blog The HR Capitalist, you should. It’s a great source of HR insight and cutting-edge information. For example, this week Kris hit on two great topics — how reference checks work in the real world, and why singles shouldn’t gripe about workers with families having the company subsidize more of their health care premiums.
  • Ronald McDonald employed again. Who says that older, unemployed people who have been out of work for a long time can’t find a job? Here’s a guy who shows it can happen — and back with his old company, no less.
  • This is one unique job interview. There is a nationwide search going on for a great job — the voice of the Aflac duck. But, how do you audition for this kind of job, anyway? This video gives you some insight into the process.