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When it comes to corporate benefits, flexibility ranks high for millennial and Gen Z — sometimes even higher than salary. The younger generations especially value autonomy at work and have no problem leaving a job where they feel micromanaged. They may have grown up with helicopter parents, but they have no patience for that kind of behavior from a manager.
Successful startups are aware of this mentality and have been dutifully shifting their company culture to provide the kind of flexibility young professionals are after. And they have been reaping the rewards of happy employees. Offering flexibility to employees has been shown to raise morale and improve workplace satisfaction. According to a pre-pandemic Harvard Business Review survey, 96% of professionals said they desire more flexibility in their work. Yet less than half reported having a flex culture at work.
To compete for top talent, it’s critical to consider what aspects of flexibility need to change in your organization, whether in the form of logistical adjustments or a full-on culture shift.
Tap into what’s important
Before you begin to make changes, take a minute to gain insight into who today’s professionals are. If there are a lot of gray hairs making up your company’s HR and management team, it’s likely you’re not all that familiar with what makes young people tick. Hint: It’s not long hours in the office.
Do your research. Start inside your own organization: Connect with younger colleagues or employees and find out what’s truly motivating them. More often than not, the coveted work-life balance is a top priority. While it may be an overused term, today it’s about a sense of autonomy and fluidity when it comes to work and life. Rather than keeping the two completely separate, balance is understanding that they are inherently intertwined.
At the heart of work-life balance is flexibility inside the workday, whether it’s a flexible start and finish time for employees or a remote working option that allows employees to work from home a few days per week. What’s even better is a hybrid of the two: More freedom about when you work, and where you do it.
Once you understand what motivates the young talent you want to attract, it’s time to look at the nuts and bolts of making it work for your company.
Contrary to the old-school 9-to-5 office culture, flexible work environments run on an entirely separate set of expectations and accountability measures. Rather than assuming time-in-chair equals productivity, the managers at today’s most flexible companies understand that flex-work can actually create higher output, more content employees and better project outcomes.
One of the biggest challenges that traditional employers have to overcome is the tendency to micromanage and helicopter parent their staff. Losing that control may feel like a sharp descent into chaos, but with the right leadership and a pragmatic approach, that chaos can quickly turn into innovation.
To help your company adjust to this seismic shift in management style, look no further than the myriad of workplace collaboration programs available, such as Slack. Today a significant portion of work happens in the cloud. There’s no reason people management can’t also be taken online.
Work with your management team to come up with a set of metrics that can help evaluate your employees’ work on a project basis. Hold your people responsible for meeting deadlines, but let them manage how and when they get it done.
While check-ins are an excellent method for providing support and monitoring progress, this output-based model of management gives your employees independence and the ability to get creative and produce work in a self-motivated way.
The new face of the workplace
Pre-pandemic, the concept of flexible work sounded risky to many employers, but last year paved the pathway for adaptability. Companies were forced to adjust to a remote setting. Now, as hints of normalcy begin to appear and some restrictions lift, it’s a great time to explore a hybrid model that brings people back into the office — or not — on their own terms.
If the thought of unleashing your workforce into a permanent flex-work culture makes you squirm, keep in mind that young professionals value a balanced lifestyle. In order to thrive, young workers require a mix of in and out of office time. They need a few in-person workdays in order to build the soft skills and interpersonal relationships that are critical for mental health and better collaboration.
When your company is ready to embrace a more flexible culture, you’ll improve your chances of bringing in today’s brightest millennial and Gen Z professionals. Don’t cancel the lease on your office building. Instead, have your managers work with their teams to find the flexible work model that works best for them.
Striking a balance between in-office and remote is a great way to sustain momentum for teams that really benefit from in-person collaboration. This model also gives managers some of the face time they need to build relationships and evaluate progress within their teams. With the mix of working from home and in offices, it’s critical for companies to adopt digital productivity and communications platforms — beyond email and spreadsheets — to help keep everyone connected inside and outside of the office walls. With a true sense of “work-life balance,” young employees will inherently thrive in their roles and also grow with your company. It’s really a win-win for everyone.