Fast Company

Work Life Flex is Even More Important In a Recession

We could all use some good news, especially as it relates to our work+life fit.  I’ve spent the last few weeks traveling the country delivering one simple message to a diverse group of business leaders, employees, academics and government leaders:  Now more than ever, work+life flexibility is a core strategic lever with broad bottom line impact that allows organizations to not only survive the recession but thrive by:

  • Controlling or reducing costs in many operational areas,
  • Working better and smarter,
  • Providing better customer service across time zones,
  • Helping all employees manage their work+life fit to bring the best of themselves to a tough work reality,
  • Managing talent and headcount (e.g. creative downsizing) and
  • Continuing environmental sustainability efforts.

For more information about the business applications I’ve been discussing, check out the blog post I did for the Sloan Work and Family Network blog.

The good news is that the response to this message from all groups has been overwhelmingly positive.  This, in spite of the fact, that many of the leaders admitted later they’d arrived skeptical.  They believed that work+life flexibility might be a “perk” or nice thing to do that they could no longer afford.  What they heard changed their mind.

And individuals confessed that they arrived thinking all was lost with regard to their work+life fit until the economy turned around.  But hearing how to frame their case for flexibility as a win for them personally, but also as a way to benefit the business in the recession gave them hope.  It wasn’t just about helping them manage their work+life fit. But how could their flexibility cut costs, service clients better, and help them work smarter?

Flexibly rethinking the way work is done, how life is managed, and business is run addresses many challenges facing organizations in a world where rapid change is the only constant.  The innovative application of telecommuting, flexible scheduling, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks, and contract workers is an effective way to achieve diverse business outcomes.

The fact is, however, that the initial response of many leaders and organizations will be that flexibility is an unaffordable “perk” they can no longer afford.  But the economic downturn offers a unique opportunity to challenge their thinking, because change only happens when there’s either a compelling vision of the future or overwhelming pain.  Right now there’s a lot of pain, so my goal is to switch focus onto the untapped possibilities that strategic work+life flexibility offers businesses and individuals.

Work life flexibility is much more than a “nice thing to do,” or the “right thing to do.”  It’s a strategic lever that addresses a broad range of business challenges that are particularly relevant in the current environment.  Today, it’s the recession.  Two years from now, it will be something else.  Increasingly rapid change is the only constant.  The most adaptable and flexible organizations and individuals will not only survive, but thrive.  Let’s start now.  Unfortunately, I only reached 600 people in my travels so help me spread the word!

What do you think?  Share your stories about how strategic work+life flexibility is helping your run your business and manage your work+life fit differently in this recession.

 

Add New Comment

2 Comments

  • Karol Rose

    I couldn't agree more that the time is right for organizations and individuals to embrace working flexibly as a way to meet challenging business and personal needs. It seems to me that we need a new conversation re choice. That instead of a knee jerk reaction to cutting costs, which often means 'cutting heads', organizations could try having an honest conversation with their talent about the current situation and ask for volunteers interested in working differently for a period of time. Perhaps some folks would be willing to take a few months off as an unpaid sabbatical, or work part time for a while, or work from home to reduce facility/overhead costs (and commuting costs, as well as carbon footprint). And, individuals shouldn't be shy about asking for flex now and making the case for ways it will reduce costs for their employer. While there is not one flex solution for every organization or individual, there are many flex options that might appeal to some people for the short term that could ultimately save jobs in the long term. It's been proven that companies that treat their talent fairly during a crisis end up doing well as things improve. While those that use a hatchet when a scalpel would do may have a short term bump but frequently loose their best talent when times improve. Not to mention what they've done to morale and productivity in the short term. Organizations and individuals understand that times are hard. Using this as an opportunity for more choice over how, where and when work is done can be a win/win for everyone. We could certainly try it. What have we got to lose?

  • Steve Boese

    Great post Cali. I think that when more organizations cease to view schedule control as a 'perk' and rather as a strategic tool that things will improve for most workers. I write this as I think of how I had to drive needlessly fast, in a snow squall, to try and be on time for a mandatory standing meeting that almost never helps me get anything accomplished.