Flex work programs boost staff loyalty, reduce turnover

Financial imperatives are forcing many smaller Canadian firms to drastically cut operating costs.

While there may be business benefits to this, one thing cost-cutting doesn’t do is improve employee morale.

Except when it comes to a flex work program.

This is one budget-trimming measure that usually heightens staff morale and job satisfaction, and improves employee retention.

A majority of 1,013 Canadian employees recently polled by Harris/Decima indicated that when choosing a company to work for, the availability of flexible work options are crucial. This factor, they say, ranks second only to the money they’re offered.

Allowing staff to work away from the office can bring many benefits to companies, the survey, commissioned by Telus Corp. (TU), a Burnaby, B.C.-based telecommunications firm, found.

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Organizations that harness technology to let staff work anywhere – in the office, on the road, or at home – have an advantage over the competition when it comes to attracting top talent, according to Jeff Lowe, vice-president, marketing at Telus.

The survey bears out this observation.

Sixty-seven per cent of those polled said they would be “more loyal” to companies that provided them with a flex work option.

More than 81 per cent agreed an organization that offers flex work programs “positively differentiates” itself from other companies.

Eighty-seven per cent of remote workers polled said they are just as, if not more, productive when working out of the office.

Over half of the respondents (56 per cent) said having a flex work option would motivate them to work harder.

Yet despite strong support for flex work programs, only 46 per cent of survey participants work at a company offering such a program.

A new perspective

So what’s hindering a greater uptake of flex work strategies among companies today?

“Inertia, ignorance and fear,” are three of the biggest impediments, says one expert.

Tom Lorman is director of strategic space and alternative work at the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF). TIAA-CREF has offices across the U.S. and Canada.

He was one of the technology and workplace experts who participated in a discussion on the survey findings.

Over the past five years Lorman’s 90-year-old company has moved towards flex work. TIAA-CREF also provides training and resources to make this program effective.

Some are uncomfortable with the idea of flex work because they are not quite sure what to expect, Lorman noted. He said administrative concern can become one of the biggest barriers to flex work.

Some roles, he said, are clearly better suited to this model. But in many cases the lines aren’t that clearly defined, at least for managers.

He said managers who link productivity to an employee always being at their desk need a “perspective change.”

Flex work and SMBs

Panelists generally agreed that small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) are more open to flexible work arrangements than large corporations.

“Flex work programs benefit both small and large businesses. However, small businesses aren’t often as deeply entrenched in cultural norms and can more readily set new expectations,” said Jennifer Perrier-Knox, senior analyst for tech analyst firmInfo-Tech Research Group in London,

While SMBs are more adaptable, larger firms sometimes find it hard to get employee input and buy-in for programs or have difficulties putting the right policies and procedures in place, she said.

SMB’s, she said, are also typically younger firms, mostly made up of younger staff, who typically expect flex work options.

Peter Day, president of Endo Networks Inc., a direct marketing firm based in Oakville Ont., agrees.

Small firms, he said, lack the resources that larger businesses have, and need to use creative ways to attract and retain employees.

Giving employees the option of where they’d like to work is a great way to increase the satisfaction, he said. But firms also need to equip their flex work staffers with the right tech tools to do their jobs effectively.

Several other noteworthy findings emerged from the Telus survey relating to flex work and productivity.

For instance, 71 per cent of managers believe their reports effectively complete assignments when working remotely. But around 54 per cent said it’s difficult to monitor a remote employee’s productivity.

Among managers who don’t currently offer their teams flex work, 54 per cent said they would be willing to offer such programs. More than 54 per cent of managers worry their reports also engage in non-work related activities, while working remotely.

And their view isn’t unfounded, the Telus survey reveals.

Seventy per cent of people working remotely admit they do non-work related stuff such as surfing the Web (45 per cent), performing household chores (41 per cent), and running errands (32 per cent).

Flex work can add zest to a person’s professional and personal life, according to Allison Konrad, professor of organizational behaviour at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

“Flex work programs actually have a work-family facilitation effect,” she said.

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