The world of work changed fundamentally in the mid-1980s. If that seems like a long time ago, it’s only because it is. The first Apple Mac had just been sold and the public Internet didn’t yet exist.
Up until then, you were expected to find a career you could do well in, work in it for 40 years or so, and then retire.
That’s not true anymore. We’ve come a long way since then.
Of course, not everything has moved at the same pace.
When the mantra “no job for life” was first suggested, it was the employees who were nervous, after all it was they who until then, as their fathers before them, had exactly that.
Not long afterwards, however, workers realized that breaks between contracts offered opportunities to relax, recover, and even obtain education and training so that they could pursue entirely different careers. This put the shoe on the other foot. Now it was the turn of the employers to be nervous. Where would they get the staff to do the work if they couldn’t depend upon those whose contracts had expired to renew them?
After more than 35 years of this to-ing and fro-ing, the issues are still not settled. It’s unlikely that they will ever be.
Employers will never guarantee employees jobs for life again. The cost of doing so is simply too high. Employees for the most part like the freedom that changing careers periodically gives them. They will be loath to give that up so that they can work for the same organization for 40 years. For them, it would be a life sentence to do that.
What all this means is that we’re living in an era of flexibility that’s unprecedented in modern times and let’s face it: You wouldn’t have it any other way.
You want it and so do those who work for you; but with it comes responsibilities that you can’t shove in a corner somewhere.
The scope for flexibility is widening all the time, and you have to deliberately find ways to accommodate it. If you don’t then those who work for you will find an organization that lets me do it to the extent that they would like it.
It has already happened, as many organizations have discovered to their cost, and we’ll see more and more of it as time goes along.
A good example of this can be found in the desire for remote working. The Internet has made it not only possible, but cost effective for organizations to allow their people to work from home. Some employees don’t want to do this because they miss the camaraderie of workmates; but others would prefer it to early morning or late night commutes and the need for childcare.
In a society where work-life balance has become more important, working from home fits neatly into their values and goals.
How you could save money
According to one source, more than half of employees would happily take a 20% pay cut if it meant they could work from home.
Think for a moment what they would mean to the size of your payroll.
Let’s consider an example.
Suppose the annual season rail ticket into London is £6,000. This would represent 20% of your income if you earned £30K per year.
According to this study, you would be happy to accept £24K per year if you didn’t have to travel to work.
A good question for companies, therefore, is this: Which is the most cost effective? Insisting that people come to work at your premises in London and you having to subsidise that expense with some kind of allowance, or being flexible enough to let them work from home and make an immediate cost savings?
In America, this would be called a “no-brainer”.
It’s true that people need to feel connected, but they don’t necessarily need to feel it at work – at least not to the extent that they would if they were sitting in the office every day. In any case, if you were as flexible as you claim to be, then you wouldn’t force anyone to do it who didn’t want to.
There’s a bit of a paradox in organizations, however.
It’s not unusual for the ones who are most against remote working to simultaneously be sending out other people on a regular basis. It’s true that these people may have sales or customer service responsibilities; but what difference does that make? With mobile phones and texting, it’s easy enough to contact people. In larger organizations, you’d do it anyway, rather than walk to a different building or down the hall to another office.
The fact is that that in many cases it’s simply unnecessary to insist that employees travel to their jobs.
When you allow people to work remotely, then you are embracing another facet of the flexibility that you say you want to have. You are giving your employees choice in how they do their work.
Employees want the freedom to do what works best for them. Mrs Clinton’s use of multiple devices and a home server is a perfect example. That she hasn’t been prosecuted for breaking the law is because those empowered to enforce it have failed to do so. Nevertheless, it’s a perfect example someone working in a manner that suits that person.
Flexibility – the top internal communication trend
So the message in this article is to pursue flexibility on all fronts. Don’t cherry-pick the bits you like and hold back on the ones you don’t. The world of work has moved far past that.
You can’t prevent people from wanting it. The cat has been out of the bag for three decades. You’ll have about as much success as re-imposing Communism on a country that has escaped it. You can only impede those who want more of it in their jobs. And the thing is that if you choose that path, then those who want it will leave if they can.
Why some employees stay
One more thing needs to be said in this respect.
Just because people haven’t left doesn’t mean it’s because they want to stay. It may be that, for a variety of reasons, they have no choice. It could be the kids’ schools or the spouse’s job, or elderly parents. You probably will never find out unless you’re told.
An inflexible attitude on your part, however, will ultimately lower productivity. This is another way of saying that you will cause your costs to go up.
Fifty years ago, a landmark study on motivation demonstrated that people experience greater job satisfaction, which itself yields greater productivity, when they are given opportunities to achieve more. Rigid working practices get in the way of that.
Let’s go back to the remote working example. Where would you start? How would you begin to implement it?
The key is to find out by asking who would like to work remotely; who would like greater flexibility, maybe in hours worked, or time that the workday starts and finishes; who would like greater control over his / her working environment or responsibilities.
These are the people who can increase the overall productivity of your department or company.
Ask them what they want, and then be prepared to let them do it.
You won’t regret it.
If you consider it important to explore these issues further – email me here to set up an initial telephone conversation.