Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been repeatedly asked: "What do you think will happen to work+life fit and flexibility if the economy experiences a recession?"
I think two things will happen. Unfortunately, too many leaders and organizations will default to a shortsighted fall back position, "Forget flexibility. People are just lucky to have jobs." But the smart leaders and organizations won’t. They will continue to move forward integrating flexibility into the way they do business because they understand that there is no turning back. To use a recession as an excuse to stop developing news ways of flexibly managing work and life will only put them further behind in terms of growth potential when a recession ends.
What do these smart leaders and organizations know that the less enlightened overlook? They understand that flexibility is key to their businesses success in a 24/7, high tech, global work reality. They know that:
•Even in a recession talent will still be a scare commodity (see the results from PriceWaterhouse Cooper’s recent Global CEO Survey). If organizations hope to hold on to valuable talent (especially employees under the age of 30) once a recession ends they better do all they can now to win employee loyalty and be the employer of choice. And finding a better work+life fit is very important to a majority of the workforce. As a leader in a professional services firm recently said to me, "Back in 1975, there were 30 resumes for every job. Now there are 10 jobs for every qualified resume." That ratio isn’t going to change drastically with a recession;
•You can’t effectively service global clients and manage global teams without flexibility that considers impact on work+life fit. Domestic employees can’t be on the phone all night with Singapore and then haul themselves into work the next day 8-to-6. Clients and teams in other countries can’t always be expected to be the ones to make the early morning/late night concessions. Organizations aren’t going to stop operating globally because of a recession;
•In a recession, more needs to be done with fewer resources. It’s even more critical that your employees are at their most productive and your workflow and communication management is at its most efficient. Studies show that flexibility to help employees manage their work+life fit results in increased productivity, more efficiency, and better communication.
•Finally, companies that need to cutback will use flex to creatively downsize. By offering to reduce schedules or a transition people to project-based, consulting work, employees who otherwise would lose their tie to the organization can stay. When business turns around, those companies then have the option of offering those employees a return to a full-time schedule.
So what do you think the leaders of your organization will do if we begin to experience a recession? Will there be a knee-jerk retrenchment where all innovation related to work+life fit and flexibility is halted as people fear for their jobs? Or will the recognition that without flexibility to manage time, talent, and workflow, a company will not be positioned to succeed prevail?