The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

Trusting Employees to Get the Job Done

Offering your employees some amount of flexibility and latitude in both how and where they do the job will be an essential component of employee retention in the future.

The war for talent is heating up and anticipated to get fierce in the next few years. Employees have demands they haven’t had in the past with dual career couples, caring for elderly parents, single parent households and other stressors in their personal life. We find that where work-life balance can be hard to achieve, there is an expectation from our workers that we will understand the ever-changing pressures workers have. Employers have to make a conscious decision what level of flexibility and empowerment over their workday they are comfortable offering employees.

More and more environments are moving to some level of virtual, or flexible work arrangements. But it begs the question I hear all the time: “If my employees are working from home, how do I know they are working all day?” And the truth is…they probably aren’t. Let’s all stop kidding ourselves; employees often work from home because they have a sick child, need to deal with a repairman or have an appointment near the house. The question I ask… Do you care? When employees are in the office, they stop to chat with the receptionist, use the bathroom that is a 5 minute walk from their cube, and spend plenty of time waiting for the elevator to get them up and down your office building. So is it really all that different when they work from home and take a bit of time to accomplish other tasks?

Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco Industries in Brazil, was recently asked “where are all your employees” when it was observed that his offices were nearly empty. His reply was, “I don’t have the slightest idea – and I don’t really care.” He is lauded as being a leader in employee engagement and really understanding the workforce of the 21st century. His point is that you should trust your employees to be where they need to be and get the job done.

In the digital age, most employees are constantly checking email, thinking about projects for tomorrow and engaging with co-workers at all hours of the day. Does it really need to be accomplished between 8:30 – 5 anymore?

Our systems allow employees to receive emails instantaneously on secure networks and devices – and we count on that when we expect a response within minutes within our own offices. Many meetings are conducted via conference call –so what does it matter if they are in a cube or their living room, you trust employees to be active participants. And…given the reduction of private space in today’s open-office environment, where is an employee to go when there is a project to be completed that requires thought and concentration? Home is often the best solution.

Virtual environments as a routine can be fraught with issues. It is proven time and time again that when employees casually bump into one another in the hall they have impromptu conversations and get to know one another on a personal level. There is something about face-to-face communication that is essential in business.

Studies and articles continue to report that 92 % of communication is non-verbal. Many organizations find success and balance by requiring core working hours and trusting that each employee is working a full work week. Flextime with core hours is a program where employees are given flexibility in arrival and departure times, but all are in the office from 10 – 3 for example. In this example, the core hours are 10 – 3, but employees are trusted to worked from 6:30 – 3 or 10 – 6:30 for example in the case of a standard 8 ½ hour work day.

Many organizations have a “trust-but-verify” philosophy, and have created documented work-from-home policies. This is advantageous as it provides employees and managers alike a common ground as to what the organizational position is on workplace flexibility. Managers can trust employees to get the job done, but will have a policy and procedure to fall back on and when the employee may have pushed the issue too far.

Offering your employees some amount of flexibility and latitude in both how and where they do the job will be an essential component of employee retention in the future. The workforce of tomorrow will expect that you understand their obligations and trust them to navigate their commitments while meeting your mission critical expectations. Leadership should remain focused on the goal of getting the job done and retaining the best and brightest talent, and if this can be done with a bit of added flexibility it can be a win-win solution for all.

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