The Real Reason Workplace Flexibility Is Here to Stay
As companies flex their muscles in an attempt to force people back into the office, many are meeting significant opposition. Between petitions, social media campaigns and flat-out refusals to adhere to an in-office mandate, employees have made their demands known: they want to retain the flexibility that remote and hybrid work provided them during the pandemic, even as the pandemic starts to subside.
Companies have given in to their demands, recognizing that offering this flexibility is essential for retention. In fact, employees have made it abundantly clear that they’re willing to quit or give up extra pay for remote or work-from-home flexibility. Therefore, employers feel they have no choice — they either agree to flexible work or risk losing their most valuable talent.
But employers kowtowing to employee demands isn’t the only reason workplace flexibility is here to stay. The real reason is because the old way wasn’t working anyway.
The Old Ways of Work Were Broken
Back in BC (Before COVID) times, the conventional in-office, 5-day-a-week, 10-hour-a-day rat race wasn’t exactly effective nor desirable. In fact, it was harmful to our health. Employee engagement in the first 15 years of this century was chronically low, below 30%, with the number of actively disengaged workers reaching an all-time high between 2007-2013. Even before the pandemic hit, workplace stress was on the rise, having surged nearly 20% over the three decades prior, creating a cascade of adverse health effects, as well as absenteeism and job performance issues.
A storm was clearly brewing. For years, employees had been growing increasingly disgruntled with overbearing bosses standing over their shoulders, forcing them to put in long hours, prioritizing presence over performance. It was routinely expected that employees would sacrifice their family time, mental health and their personal goals and aspirations to meet deadlines and business goals.
Millions suffered through soul-sucking commutes that sapped hours from every day and joy from their lives. They spent hundreds of dollars a week on gas, parking or public transit, along with the requisite on-the-go coffees, breakfasts, lunches and even dinners we ate on the run because duty was perpetually calling.
In exchange for our sacrifice, employers restricted our time off, requiring us to work years for a few paid vacation days and forcing us to use allocated annual leave days to manage family emergencies and recover from personal illness.
As a whole, the workforce felt relegated to cogs in a wheel, forced to fill every bit of available bandwidth and max fill their daily and weekly capacity. It’s no surprise that so many of us were feeling chronically overwhelmed, burned out and exhausted.
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A Chance to Explore a New Way of Working
The pandemic opened a whole new world for many workers, providing flexibility and freedom to work where, how and when they wanted. Many discovered they were more productive with fewer interruptions and were more effective and creative when they were able to work when they felt most engaged, rather than on some pre-defined schedule. The night owl could finally hit their groove at 9 p.m. without suffering the consequences of an 8 a.m. start time the next morning, and the early bird could get in the zone at 6 a.m. while the rest of the world (and the kids) still slept.
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Outside of work, we were able to be present for our children and meet other family obligations. Without agonizing commutes, we could spend more time pursuing personal passions, hobbies, and personal and professional development. As we settled in to blending our work and personal lives together without feeling like we had to sacrifice one for the other, we felt more independent and empowered, and our work reflected it: 77% of remote working employees were more productive, doing 30% more work in less time.
This wasn’t only good for employees — it was good for employers, too. Companies saw an increase in performance and creativity, and employees were more engaged and invested in their work. Even companies who at first felt compelled to smother employees to make sure they were working, discovered that backing off actually improved their performance.
None of this should be surprising. Most of us know inherently that when it feels like your company cares about you as a human being, we’re more likely to be loyal and invested in the company’s success. We need time to breath, refresh and recharge to do our best work. And, having time to pursue personal endeavors fuels our creativity, inspiration and drive.
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Flexibility Is Even More Important Now
As a potential recession looms large and layoffs abound, now more than ever companies need to do whatever it takes to keep employee morale high to avoid quiet quitting and productivity wanes during uncertain times.
Empowering employees with the flexibility and autonomy they need isn’t just a concession that companies must make in order to retain talent and be competitive. It’s an investment in a happier, better balanced and well-rounded society that benefits us all.
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About the Author
As CEO of Delta Hire, Noelle Federico oversees the company's recruitment and training services for its clients. Dedicated to helping companies find top talent to meet their business needs, Noelle is also an experienced business leader, entrepreneur and philanthropist in addition to her work at Delta Hire.