Work-Life Sanity Blog

Workplace trends

3 November 2009

Workplace Flex of the Future

Would you like to take a look at one company’s bold and effective response to employees’ changing needs for flexibility over the course of a working lifetime?  I have a fascinating book to recommend: Mass Career Customization, by Cathleen Benko and Anne Weisberg. 

Benko and Weisberg write about how their company, Deloitte, has implemented a very new approach to flex.   

Deloitte has long been a standout leader in creating policies and practices that accommodate people’s needs for myriad forms of flexible work.  They started down this path many years ago as a means of stemming their costly turnover rates, particularly for their most talented women.  They were losing highly talented women from the partnership track at an alarming rate, mostly during the years when these women had young children.    Deloitte became the poster child company for family-friendly policies, and they reaped phenomenal savings in dollars and morale by dramatically increasing retention across the board. 

Now they’re taking it to the next level by implementing a broad system of customizing employees’ schedules and workloads a year at a time, based on the employee’s needs.  They call this dynamic “mass career customization” (MCC) , and this is the book that tells the story. 

Deloitte is normalizing the need for flexibility: it’s no longer seen as an accommodation or a one-time need that will evaporate at some point (and the sooner the better!).   Rather, Deloitte is acting as if anyone could need an  unconventional schedule or workload during any or all of their working years, so better to be nimble enough to roll with these needs rather than lose the employee.   The result is a robust and committed workforce with extraordinary capacity.   Because the company benefits, I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future.

According the Professor Myra Hart of Harvard Business School, “With an MCC approach, corporations are not saying, ‘I want only your good years or the years in which you can make a maximum contribution.’  Instead, corporations are saying to  employees, ‘We really want a lifetime contract with you.’  This is a very new approach to employee retention.”

Shelly Lazarus, Chairman & CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, writes, “Finally, a book recognizing that the needs of today’s knowledge workers are far from a women-only issue. Mass Career Customization provides an incisive analysis of what’s really happening on the talent front and a comprehensive approach of what to do about it.”

I can’t say it reads as fast as fiction, but it’s a great read.  You may think you’re reading fiction when you see what’s going on at Deloitte.   Check it out.

20 October 2009

Flexible Scheduling as a Work-Life Policy in Organizations

Something very curious is happening in my business.  I am being contacted more frequently these days to consult or present to a variety of organizations regarding flexible scheduling:

  • how individuals can most successfully propose it to their managers
  • how managers can have effective conversations about it
  • the degree to which flexible scheduling helps retain talented individuals
  • how an individual can figure out whether/how his job can be flexed
  • how an individual can know whether flex is “the answer” for her/him.

I come to this topic from the perspective of the individual; most of my work since 1995 has been coaching individual professionals on work-life and career-related dynamics.  Since many of my clients are managers, I also know the perspective of the individual manager regarding her own work-life balance and flex options as well as those of her direct reports. 


Why am I seeing a sudden uptick in inquiries about the policy side of things?  Have we reached some tipping point and now organizations in many more industries have to offer flexible scheduling policies in order to attract and retain the talent they need?  As distinct from just a few years ago, when only the most progressive industries and companies had such policies?  Is this only happening in companies experiencing growth?  In fact, all of the organizations I’ve heard from are doing well.


But I know some companies are scaling back on flex policies, siting the recession as the cause.  And I know that some individuals who would love to flex their jobs are not even thinking about bringing it up right now, they are so afraid of making waves, so afraid of losing their jobs.


What’s happening in your industry and in your organization?  Are policies for flexible scheduling part of your landscape?  Who uses them? 


In some organizations, they’re only available to the most senior and talented people with the best track records, and only then because these people make it clear they won’t stay at the company without them. 


In other companies, flex policies are used mostly by people who are not ambitious and not on the leadership track; working a reduced or non-standard schedule can be both an indicator and cause of being off the leadership track at places where this is the culture.


Still other companies have flex policies that are used by their executive leadership, who not only support it, they also model it.  These tend to be the companies where flexing thrives, and so does the business.   


I suspect that the increase I am seeing in work-life policy work indicates that a tipping point has been reached and many more organizations are scrambling to institute these policies.  Just the way I imagine at some point many years ago, another tipping point was reached and organizations realized they needed to offer health insurance. 


Either that or some recent change to the SEO strategy on my website  has just made me findable in a new way.  Or both.