The Evolution of Flexibility in the Workplace

As with most aspects of the world, the workplace is evolving. It’s a common refrain: flexible workplace benefits keep employees satisfied and engaged. High rates of satisfaction in turn yield higher rates of production and smaller costly turnover percentages.

I recently wrote an article titled, “Modern Life Offers a Cornucopia of Flexible Options: Our Professional Lives are a Little Slower to Similarly Evolve and Align.” In it I discuss how the progression of market demand and available technology has provided consumers with choices that fit a customized lifestyle, but that the modern workplace is still lagging along the customization spectrum. Change is good if you embrace it.

While I don’t address gender specifically in the article, I do want to address a couple aspects in this blog about women as it relates to an evolving workplace and progressive attitudes. The Huffington Post recently reported on a study that concluded: marriage structure has an impact “beyond the four walls of the house” and that attitudes toward women are determined by the social role that a guy plays in his own life. If a man is the primary breadwinner, he may—even subconsciously—believe that that’s how it “should be” in all marriages.

Interesting. Even as we see a positive trend in the growing number of women CEOs (although still at less than 4 percent), we continue to see a large number of women almost stuck in a professional layer just below that executive line. The attitudes noted in this study seem to have merit. But recent events are helping shape the evolution through new dialogue.

Reference all the clamor around not only the installation of new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, but of the subsequent announcement of her pregnancy. This added a whole new layer of debate around how she will handle maternity leave, how progressive an organization Yahoo is, how women CEOs juggle work and children, and how women are advancing as a collective gender in the workplace.

Mayer plans to work through her maternity leave. Why? Throughout her interview process with the company, Yahoo execs displayed a sense of “evolved thinking.” So, Mayer responded in her own, evolved way with a non-traditional leave. Hopefully they both got what they were looking for. But this begs the question: Are we taking a step backward or forward with this kind of mindset? I think sideways, and that’s a good thing.

We are starting a new path of conversation around women working the waythey want and the way that best suits their family unit. Seems to me that we’re taking more control over the situation. More of us are working when and where we are at our most productive, either with our current companies or finding new ones—or starting our own. Customization.

So, as an organization is it worth resisting growing workplace flexibility trends and possibly losing your high-level talent? Before answering, remember that it’s not just employees you’re losing. There are dozens of costs associated with employee turnover ranging from recruiting to interviewing to income lost while the position goes unfilled.

The big picture is to recognize and understand when employee preferences change on a macro level and evolve for the betterment of your organization. Look forward to change and don’t fall behind. Unless of course you’re ready for a complete talent overhaul, and that’s another conversation entirely.

Has this notion of a more customized work environment reached your halls? What programs have been implemented to address these shifting employee preferences? And where are you finding the most success?

Allison O’Kelly is founder and CEO of Mom Corps


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