by Tracy Brower, PhD — Senior executives representing 1.2 million employees believe that work environments matter to business outcomes. Through this study of non-real estate-related decision makers, it is clear that the Corporate Real Estate (CRE) model is becoming the business model, and at the junction of people, place and technology is organizational performance. Our real estate, our facilities and our work environments need to be accountable to both organizational outcomes and employees, and it is through work-life supports that they can be.
Accessing Senior Executives
Recently, I had the opportunity to explore senior executive opinions regarding the work-life supports provided by organizations. Specifically, my study asked senior executives about the worklife supports their organizations offer to employees, and it explored the variables that affect the provision of these work-life supports. The senior executive interviewees represent Fortune 100 and 500 companies, and they are all C-suite or within two reporting levels of the C-suite. They represent banking, finance and insurance; manufacturing; media; oil and gas; and technology companies. These executives each shape policy and practice within their organizations. They do so formally, through the decisions they make, and they do so informally because of their visibility and influence. Together, their span of influence touches 1.2 million people.
Defining Work-life Supports
Traditionally, work-life supports have been defined as the benefits, policies and informal cultural practices that companies provide to support workers in navigating and integrating their work and personal lives. Through this research, however, work environment emerged as an integral element of these work-life supports. The fact that work environments are now a part of executives’ definitions of work-life supports is testament to the influence CRE is having on the business. In addition to the benefits packages that provide work-life supports (vacation, medical benefits, maternity and paternity leaves, elder care), flexibility in the work environment and alternative working options have become factors in work-life support. Companies are increasingly providing technology tools and programs for employees to work anywhere. They are providing amenities such as relaxation rooms, lactation rooms, onsite daycare, dry cleaning and take-home dinners. They are providing for alternative working hours, compressed working hours, summer working hours, flex time, job sharing and staged retirement. In short, companies are expanding their definitions of work-life supports and responding to a wide variety of worker needs through multiple options that offer work-life support.
Responding to Challenges
Today, we are all faced with the challenge of successfully navigating and integrating our work and personal demands. Technology has blurred the lines of our work and personal lives, and we are faced with unprecedented time poverty — too many demands and too little time to meet them all. We face pressure both as organizations and as employees because of the increased globalization, competition, complexity of work and rates of change. At the same time, we are seeking a measure of balance in our lives: We want personal fulfillment both at work and at home. As a result, the work-life supports that companies provide are critically important to workers and to the companies themselves.
Work-Life Supports + Work Environments Positively Contribute to Organizational Outcomes
Companies are offering these options because they believe that work-life supports, including alternative working and the work environment, matter to organizational outcomes. Overall, senior executives in this study reported that providing work-life supports contributes to employee engagement, productivity, cost savings, attraction and retention. In particular, senior executives believe that providing worklife supports sends a strong message to their employees that the company cares about them. One executive from a multinational media company believes that employees “will always go the extra mile” when they believe the company cares about them. Another senior executive said, “If you offer work-life supports, you increase engagement and retention, keeping costs down because you have employees that are more productive. If you give employees flexibility you’re meeting them more than halfway to facilitate that productivity.” Another executive reported that people perform better when they are happier at their jobs and have flexibility. Yet another said, “You win the hearts and minds of your employees by ensuring their needs are met as well as the business needs. You’ll get much more productivity and innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.” Other executives report that without work-life supports and flexibility, companies simply will not be able to attract the top talent they need.
What drives the Provision of Work-Life Support
Despite the panacea that work-life supports seem to be, there is still a great deal of variability in what companies offer. Considering this variability, the study finds there are 10 factors that affect the extent to which companies offer worklife supports. Together they cluster into four sets of lessons learned for those seeking to successfully implement or expand work-life supports in their organization.
1. Align with Programs, Work, and People
2. Foster Effective Leadership & Manage to Outcomes
Some executives report that work team leaders who have to “see the white’s of peoples’ eyes in order to manage” are less likely to provide work flexibility. One executive said, “I can have the greatest policies in the world, but if I haven’t changed the mindset of the manager who is making the decision, there is potential that the employee isn’t going to be approved for this flexible working arrangement.” In addition, while most companies have general training for work team leaders, very few companies have training or development specifically related to work-life supports. Those that do, see better adoption.
Another executive said, “I don’t care if people are working upside down in the bathtub at home as long as they’re exceeding expectations.” Most of the executives report that they are driving for an organization that sets expectations for deliverables and manages to those, evaluating performance based on results. Organizations with this focus on performance outcomes tend to offer more options for work-life support.
3. Leverage the Organizational Realities
4. Pay Attention to Culture
Of course the sum total of these factors is organizational culture. An organization’s culture — the norms and unwritten rules of an organization — affects the factors and in turn are affected by them.
Anticipating the future
Senior executives are unanimous in their belief that the prevalence of work-life supports will only continue to increase. They believe that global work, demands, competition, the speed of information flow and the competition for top talent, will all continue to drive the need to provide work-life supports. According to one senior executive, “This is more than just a trend. It’s reality now. It’s the way work is done. Those individuals and companies that aren’t familiar with working this way will become obsolete.” Another executive said, “I think it’s really an evolution, and you just really have to keep listening to your employees. Demand for work-life supports will only grow. People will demand it. They will vote with their feet if we don’t give it to them.”
Make the case: work Environments matter
Ultimately, work-life supports matter. The executives in this study agree that work-life supports have a direct effect on organizational outcomes such as profitability, growth, brand, stock price shareholder value and employee engagement. This research helps prove a business case for the effects real estate and facilities and work environments can have — and this is helpful to all of us who are telling the story and proving the importance of the work environment every day.
Fundamentally, work-life supports exist at the intersection of people, place and technology. The workplace needs to be accountable to both the organization and to the employees, and work-life supports are one mechanism through which it is.
About the author
Tracy Brower, PhD & MM, is Director of Performance Environments for Herman Miller.
Some of CoreNet Global’s member experts weighed in on the importance of attracting great talent, flexible work arrangements and taking advantage of technology to make it easier for people to work anywhere, anytime.
Jim Scannell, The Travelers Companies: Yes, we offer a multitude of HR programs focused on both younger and older workers.
George Bouri, Consultant: A firm needs to have initiatives in place that are customized to the talent it wants to attract.
Del Boyette, Boyette Strategic Advisors: Being a small firm, I try to be as flexible and supportive of employees personally and professionally. It seems to work, as we have very little turnover.
Keith Perske, eBusiness Strategies: We allow employees to live and work from anywhere. To the people we hire, that is a big attractor. We also are actively conscious about worker autonomy and the need to balance work and family.
Robin Ronne, Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance: Flexible work arrangements and alternative workplace strategies play an increasingly important role in the attraction and retention of high-performing managers and employees. The integration of technology that allows managers and employees to maintain their workflow regardless of location — office, on the road, at home — has become the enabler that helps maintain productivity and in turn, profitability. Integrating technology so that connectivity is available at all times leads to the opportunity for a better work-life-family balance, which is a key and critical objective.
Scannell: To a certain point. For some employees it doesn’t matter, as they legally can’t be working anytime from anywhere. For others, their work needs to be with the rest of the team. For the remainder, it does help with overall results and efficiency.
Boyette: We have employees in three cities, and this totally works for us. It is more about the skills of the employee and commitment to quality client service that is most important. When I decided to move the firm’s main office to Little Rock from Atlanta two years ago, it wasn’t an issue and we have not had turnover. As long as the work gets done and the client’s needs are met and responded to in a timely manner, who cares? Anywhere, anytime is the only way in 2012.
Bouri: It is increasingly embedded in the way people do business, and even though more attitudes are open to it, not all companies are on the same spectrum. It is part of the culture of most organizations, and the reality is that people today are more mobile. As the labor market becomes more competitive in the next year or two, this kind of thing will become a competitive advantage for organizations.
Perske: It is how we do business. Our company would not exist without work-anywhere policies and remote management techniques and technologies. Outside our company, it is the way knowledge work is done in 2012 whether a company has a formal mobility program or not.
Perske: Content is the wrong word. That is the employee’s responsibility. Engaged is what we strive for because engaged workers are the most productive. Our company consciously works to match employee wants and talent with the jobs we offer them. Employees want autonomy and opportunities to grow. We offer that.
Boyette: Absolutely. I care about them and their families and they know it. I am as flexible as I need to be, and between Christmas and New Year’s, we take the time off to reflect on the past year and begin the new year in the right way.
Ronne: If you look at the single-largest operational expense for the majority of companies, it’s payroll and payroll-related items. So it would naturally flow that if employees are not content — if they don’t feel respected, appreciated and fairly compensated — the cost of employee turnover or churn will negatively affect the company’s profitability, lower the overall morale and detract from the overall mission statement. The company’s commitment to providing attractive and well-designed workplaces along with maintaining investments in technology are key elements, but paying attention to basic human nature through communication of respect and appreciation along with fair compensation, cannot be overlooked.
Bouri: Without sounding too cliché, a company is only as good as the people in it.
Perske: Absolutely! The very definition of work today includes the robust use of technology. It’s like trying to define carpentry without talking about hammers. Separating work and technology is no longer part of the discussion.
Ronne: To ensure that connectivity is available at all times regardless of location — office, on the road, at home — can lead to an enhanced work-life-family balance, which in turn leads to the ability to recruit and retain those high-performing managers and employees that are critical to a company’s ultimate success.