What Kind of Job Flexibility Do Workers Really Want?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Not all business owners and leaders can afford to lure employees to plush corporate offices where they enjoy three company-​provided meals a day, in addition to fat salaries and stock options. While many employees yearn for those kinds of jobs, the truth is they will work for companies that don’t provide top-​shelf benefits. The catch is employers must provide the job flexibility workers really want. Several recent articles reviewed the elements of job flexibility employers should be considering as they seek to hire and retain staff members. These elements include:

  • Job Content and Job Flexibility
  • Work Location and Hours
  • Work Culture

Job Content and Job Flexibility

Are you designing positions with the right job content? We all have parts of our job that don’t thrill us. Do some of your employees have more, rather than fewer, undesirable tasks in their job description?

If it seems like you’re always recruiting to fill a specific position, take a look at how the job is structured. Peter Cappelli, a management professor at Wharton, says the simple act of showing empathy and regularly asking those employees how they are doing with specific tasks makes a difference. For the long term, think about ways to restructure the job. 

An example of this kind of restructuring took place recently at a supermarket chain that was highlighted for the way they cross-​train existing employees. As jobs go, few people enjoyed the full-​time grind in the deli department. Realizing that work leads to burnout, managers trained other staff members to fill in at the deli counter. Team members had the chance to train at other jobs and spend part of their day doing something else. As a result, the burnout load dropped.

Work Location and Hours

Since the pandemic began, most employees and organizational leaders consider the topic of where they work to be the chief factor in job flexibility. In our recent Voice of the Sales Manager survey, 28% of sales managers say the topic of where employees work generates the most friction with their direct reports.  About 34% of sales managers say flexibility about work hours causes significant friction.

Holger Reisinger and Dane Fetterer suggest that a better way to think about this topic is to consider autonomy. In their Harvard Business Review article, Reisinger and Fetterer encourage organizational leaders to heed the work of psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. Ryan and Deci believe modern humans do best in an environment that allows them to self-​determine their future. The three components of this self-​determination are: “autonomy, competence, and relatedness.” To give your employees autonomy, they need the freedom to decide when and where to work. If you require them to be in the office every Monday at 8:00 a.m., their sense of autonomy decreases.

Your employees' desired flexibility won’t feel successful unless you also address issues of competency. “Competence refers to an individual’s ability to complete their tasks through a mastery of relevant skills,” say Reisinger and Fetterer. If you’re running a sales department, ask your team members to take sales skills assessments. Based on the results, you can design a personalized coaching program. This type of program helps them improve performance as they work autonomously and accept accountability for their outcomes.

Work Culture

Today’s workers won’t put up with a hostile workplace. They know they can find another job easily. It’s on you to make sure they’re comfortable in your work culture. Some managers may believe that issues of equity and inclusion are muted in a remote work environment. Not true.

Your employees can still be left out of meeting as a deliberate slight by their manager. They may be subjected to bullying or other microaggressions. An organization can suffer significant setbacks if it turns out that a manager engages in the kind of toxic behavior that makes employees uncomfortable and increases stress. Before promoting a team member into a managerial position, ask them to take a psychometric assessment. This simple step will help you see if this person is likely to turn into a "glory hog" as a manager, one who fails to acknowledge the work individual team members have done that contribute to the department’s success.

To improve your hiring and retention rates, stretch your definition of job flexibility. When you show employees you care, they'll reward you with loyalty.

Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels