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Workplace Flexibility & Generational Differences

By Carrie Ahmad, SPHR, SHRM-SCP; CHRO at Strong-Bridge Envision

As the U.S. experiences a tightening labor market with record low unemployment, employers are seeking ways to differentiate themselves through an evolved employee experience.

This article focuses on an important aspect of employee experience – the concept of workplace flexibility. In this multi-generational workforce, flexibility means different things to different people. Let’s explore the unique needs of each generation, and how employers can address them.

Why Workplace Flexibility Matters

Workplace flexibility has the power to influence recruiting, retention, and satisfaction within a diverse workforce. The 2014 National Study of Employers reported that employees who work in flexible workplaces experience heightened engagement, higher job satisfaction, stronger intent to remain with their employers, reduced spillover between home and work, and enhanced mental health.

Real organizations have achieved real results from implementing flexibility programs:

  • AstraZeneca found that 96% of their employees said flexibility swayed their decision to remain with the company.
  • Deloitte recognized over $41 million in turnover savings once it began offering flexible work arrangements (Blades and Fondas 2010).
  • Ernst & Young discovered that employees with high levels of commitment (as a result of their perception of having flexibility) drove financial performance with higher levels of revenue generation per employee – seven points higher than mid-commitment employees and 20 points higher than low-commitment employees.

Strong employee engagement saves companies money. Engaged employees use fewer sick days and medical benefits, they are more productive, they stay with their employers longer, and they build stronger relationships with customers. Here at SBE, we have seen increased employee engagement and satisfaction by implementing our work flex program, which includes part-time positions, unlimited PTO, flexible work schedules, and support for extended leaves of absence. We know that flexibility reduces stress and leads to better physical and mental health for our employees, reducing unplanned work absences and associated costs.

 

Flexibility: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Benefit

Five generations have merged in the workplace: The Silent Generation (1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-1997) and Generation Z (1998–2016). Each of these generations has unique needs that make balancing work life and personal life challenging. It’s beneficial for organizational leaders to understand these different needs, and implement flex programs that work both for their employees and for their businesses.

Let’s take a look at some of these differences across generations:

 

The Silent Generation & Baby Boomers

More than 50% of retirees do not follow a traditional retirement path. Retirement-eligible employees often desire flexible work options as an alternative to retirement. They seek mental stimulation and challenge, and in some cases, depend on the financial benefit of working. These two generations are seeking non-traditional retirement paths, and employers stand to gain by employing them past traditional retirement ages.

 

Generation X

Gen X is sandwiched between caring for their children and their aging parents. This means that workplace flexibility is not only a desired, but a needed benefit for this generation. Having the opportunity to adjust their working hours and take time off as needed enables Gen X to care for their families, reduce stress, and be focused at work. This enables these workers to be more productive and healthier in the long run.

 

Millennials

Millennials are more likely than other generations to have a spouse working full-time as well; flexibility options such as telecommuting enable them to care for their children and home. The Millennial generation is so eager for work-life balance that 38% of individuals in a survey of 9,700 full-time Millennial workers reported they would move to another country for better leave benefits; they want to work for organizations that help them balance work and family.

 

Generation Z

While Gen Z doesn’t have the same flexibility expectations as the other generations (they value mentorship and career development over flexibility and compensation), they are more apt than their predecessors to quickly move on from a job they don’t like. Employers should be attuned to the desires of this generation to keep them engaged and committed to the workplace. Flexibility can aid in driving engagement as long as it is coupled with a focus on helping this generation develop in their careers.

 

How to Build a Workplace Flex Program

Having implemented flex programs at SBE and at previous companies, below are the steps I recommend to beginning your path toward a strong flexibility program:

1) Survey your employees to understand what flexible work options they desire.

2) Define what a flexible work arrangement (FWA) will be at your organization. Some options include:

  • Flexible scheduling – allows employees to choose their start time based on their personal needs and best work time, as long as this aligns with meeting the needs of the business
  • Compressed work week – allows employees to work longer, but fewer days (i.e. 4 days a week at 10 hours per day)
  • Telecommute – allows employees to work at least a portion of their workweek from a remote location to ease commute frustrations and provide quiet time for focused work
  • Part-time – allows employees to transition, or be hired into, part-time positions

3) Design a program that provides the best options for your business and your employee mix. What works for one organization doesn’t necessarily work for others – build a program that is right for you. Ensure the program is clearly defined, documented, and published to employees so they know what options are available, what’s expected of them, and how to request participation in a FWA.

4) Measure the impact over time to assess the impact of FWA on your organization. You can measure engagement, absences, retention, productivity (revenue per employee), client satisfaction, and cost savings (healthcare, absences).

 

Employee Experience Strategy

Workplace flexibility is just one component of the larger employee experience. Mapping your employee experience and prioritizing the items that matter most to your employees while aligning to your business objectives will help you figure out which benefits, programs, and changes to implement. The business impacts of an elevated employee experience stretch beyond hiring and retention; increasing employee engagement is a substantial method for increasing revenue, as highly engaged employees are more committed, provide better customer service, and contribute innovative ideas to move businesses forward.

Interested in Employee Experience? Join our executive roundtable on this topic in Denver on Tuesday, December 11. Learn more and register here >>

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Carrie Ahmad is SBE’s Chief Human Resources Officer. She brings 20 years of human resources and recruiting experience across small and mid-sized businesses, as well as with Fortune 500 companies. She has built HR and recruiting functions from the ground up, developed talent acquisition, talent management, training, retention, and career transition programs, as well as executed day-to-day HR operations. She is certified through the Human Resource Certification Institute as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), and through the Society for Human Resource Management as a Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).

Though she grew up in a small town in Virginia, Carrie loves to travel and spent over two years living in the Caribbean. She is fascinated with new places, cultures, and customs.