I'm sitting here, closing out my day, thinking about how grateful I am to have flexibility with my work. My boys were home sick from school. My oldest has strep throat, which meant a day full of errands to the drug store and the doctor as well as whatever it takes to help him feel better. I was able to move everything around to be able to focus on both of my boys without feeling guilty.
As I think about how lucky I am to have the flexibility, it made me think about what flexibility really means within an organization. For me, flexibility means the ability to be home to care for my children when they're sick, or being able to attend a soccer game right after school, or participating in school programs. But, this isn't what flexibility looks like for everyone.
When I left "Corporate America" during the pandemic, I decided to pursue a health coaching certificate. I know, strange for an HR Pro, but it taught me to look at things holistically and this term of bioindividuality. This term means that everyone has different needs. From a nutrition perspective, it means that everyone needs something different to heal or be at their best. However, we can apply this term to our HR programs in the workplace, especially flexibility.
The employee experience is different for everyone and so should flexibility. Companies are struggling with the decision to stay remote, bring employees back to the office, or offer hybrid opportunities. In the words of Abe Lincoln, "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time”.
I know this sounds overwhelming because I'm telling you you can't have a one size fits all approach to flexibility. You can't have a policy that will fit everyone's needs. What you can do is equip your managers with the authority and autonomy to address flexibility needs within their team, instead of a one-size-all policy that only works for one or two teams. Pushing this decision making to the front line leaders not only empowers them, but gives the individual employees a sense of ownership over their work/life balance and builds trust--a key component to any successful employee/leadership relationship.
In order for this to work, we have to get away from clock watching. We have to focus on results, achievement of goals and overal performance. I was working with a CEO and she called me one day. She said, "John has taking a lot of time off and I'm concerned." This company had an unlimited PTO policy, so John was able to take off as much time as he needed. She suggested we write John up and change the policy. But, what does that accomplish? It punishes everyone for John's behavior. However, when we took a step back and looked at John's performance, we realized that he was meeting all of the expectations of the role.
At the end of the day, John's wife was pregnant and he was taking time off to go to doctor's visits and plan for the baby. That's exactly what he needed at that time. It didn't affect his performance, and he was able to take on some additional responsibilities, which helped accelerate some other projects.
Fortune shared a recent article in which they state, "In the evolving landscape of flexible work, leaders face a monumental challenge: ensuring performance without constant oversight. It’s time to upend this conventional narrative–and unlock a paradigm where flexibility fuels productivity, not fear. Extensive research shows that flexibility isn’t a luxury–it’s a productivity powerhouse." They talk more about hybrid work in this article, but it also talks about empowering employees to take ownership over their work in a way that works for them, the individual. That's the real key to flexibility.