What is the primary thing that employers should change to improve retention and job satisfaction among women? Offer more flexibility.
Face time is so 2008. Actually, it's more like 1998, which was right around the time I started working in the corporate workplace. Back then, face time was paramount -- because that's all there was. Email in the office was brand new and there were no such thing as BlackBerries or smartphones. Every evening, I waited patiently for my manager to leave the office before I did -- sometimes pretending to do work I had already done -- just to make sure he wouldn’t need something from me that evening.
A decade later, I had the opportunity to work at Google - a workplace built on personal accountability, i.e., the opposite of face time. At the beginning of the quarter, the month or the week, my boss and I agreed on my objectives. Then it was on me to accomplish my goals - wherever, whenever or wearing whatever I desired. The change was so startling that at first I didn’t even know how to respond to it. And yet, now I can see that this type of results-driven flexibility is exactly what will help American companies thrive - as Google does - in the 21st century.
Studies have shown that face time in the office does not increase productivity, and in fact contributes to gender bias. And yet, most traditional workplaces are still anchored around the traditional 9-to-5 model -- which now looks more like 9-to-7 for many workers -- with email to answer after work and on the weekends.
Flexibility: A critical component to women of all ages and lifestages
Recently, Fairygodboss asked women what factors were most important to them in selecting a job, after compensation. Their response? overwhelmingly, they said flexibility. Flexibility came ahead of “opportunities for advancement” and even “a nice boss.”
Further, flexibility was important to women of all ages -- whether or not they had children.
The importance of flexibility and autonomy to women is abundantly clear in Fairygodboss reviews. Less-than-stellar reviews on the site often read like this:
“The management treat [sic] most women poorly and don't [sic] believe we have any value in the workplace. There is no leeway for family obligations during work hours. You are at work or you lose points on your review and don't get a raise. It's pretty much that simple.”
- from a Web Developer
“There are discussions occurring around the topic of "flexible" or "remote" policies, but they will not be open to managers. My hope is that the institution becomes more open to flexible opportunities so that it may retain talent.”
- from a Medical Researcher
“More flexibility. Don’t treat your salary [sic] employees like hourly employees. No flexibility or trust in employees to do their job.”
- from a Human Resources Professional
Flexibility for All!
The need for workplace flexibility goes far beyond the gender equality discussion.
For parents - men and women - flexibility is simply necessary to balance the needs of a family. Things come up -- like school plays and school holidays, out-of-town spouses, single parenthood and strep throat.
But for people who are not parents, guess what? Things still come up. Sick parents, broken toilets, friends with emergencies, siblings who need help..
For millennials in general, male and female, flexible and autonomous working is becoming a requirement. Fairygodboss advisor Joanna Barsh, who is director emerita McKinsey & Company, recently published a study called “Mind the Gap: Young Leaders Show the Way.” Barsh says, “based on recent interview-based research I conducted with 120 companies, flexibility will become the norm for employers who want to win the war for talent. Working mothers are being joined by working fathers and Millennials whose lives demand it." To many millennials, flexibility equals autonomy, which equals trust.
One important note: flexibility only works when it’s available for all employees. We hear regularly from Fairygodboss users that opportunities for flexibility depend heavily on the manager or the role. But anything less than universal policies end up with less motivation rather than more.
To illustrate, Sarah, a Fairygodboss member, was lucky enough to have a flexible three day-a-week arrangement at her corporate job while most others had to work a standard office schedule. Because her team members and peers did not enjoy the same privilege, she felt guilty, while her colleagues felt resentful. “It wasn’t clear to anyone why I deserved flexibility that others did not. I felt self-conscious and uncomfortable.”
Calling all companies: Get more flexible!
Technology has come so far! And enables us to do so much from the palm of our hand - wherever we are. So why are so many workplaces still set up as though it's 1998? And letting technology make the workday longer instead of easier and more productive?
Meanwhile companies in Silicon Valley and other places are notoriously lavishing extraordinary amenities and benefits on their workers (nap pods? seriously?). It seems to me that the ones who want to win the war for engaged, loyal and high-performing employees will be the ones that find ways to innovate in flexibility.
Some have already started. Clearly, Google has set a high bar for others to follow. Dell aims to have half its staff on flexible schedules by 2020, and will benefit fro reduced real estate costs in the meantime. GE leaves work arrangements in the hands of many of its employees, and as one Fairygodboss reviewer said, “The limits on work life balance is [sic] set by the individual..”
Flexibility is critical to supporting a successful and motivated - and not completely exhausted - workforce. And it must be implemented for all employees - parents and childless, male and female - in order to create parity and deliver the benefits of motivation and satisfaction that it should.
Employees who are given the space to come and go as they please can much more easily navigate the requirements of daily life -- without losing any productivity along the way. And, employees will be more motivated and more satisfied, thus reducing churn. Some studies even show that employees working on a flexible schedule actually work longer hours than they otherwise would.
Because flexibility bolsters employee productivity, job satisfaction and gender equality, I have every expectation that more companies will implement flexibility programs. I look forward to learning more about them, and saying goodbye to face time!