Are you the Barrier to a Healthier, Happier Workplace?

Posted on December 26, 2011.

A recent University of Minnesota study looked at the before and after results of what they call a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). Essentially the study concluded that “flexibility brings with it improvements in employees' health and well-being, reduces absenteeism rates and boosts employee commitment.” So why are so many managers opposed to bringing flexibility into the workplace?

These are some of the responses I get from managers when I ask why they don’t let their employees work more flexibly:

  • “I can’t tell how much work is getting done if I don’t see them”
  • “They tell me they feel the need to be in the office with everyone else”
  • “If I let one person set their own hours, I have to let everyone and nothing will get done”.

I will agree that many employees say they want to be at work when others are at work, but isn’t the real reason more about socialization than work? Given the results of the ROWE study, every manager should take heed and try to create a more flexible environment. Here’s how:

  1. Stop judging performance by time in the office. In my experience, the people that work the longest hours are often the most inefficient.  As the study indicates, judging performance by results is a far more effective gauge than hours. Establish and communicate goals based on results. Make it clear that results are more important that the hours they log. Plus, being perceived as manager that’s a clock-watcher demonstrates a lack of trust that can permeate the entire office.
  2. Create social outlet alternatives to the office. Ask anyone who starts working from home and they’ll tell you the only thing they miss is the socialization. As a manager, you can create alternatives to the office socialization.  Develop quarterly team building events and rotate through the group who leads and develops each event. Give them a budget and let them go to town. Use social media, like Twitter to let folks stay connected and update their fellow employees. Or have a weekly in office lunch hosted by company. You can easily afford it once you’ve cut down on unnecessary office space.
  3. Establish a flexible culture. You cannot do for one what you’re unwilling to do for others.  You need to establish flexibility as an important corporate and team value. In other words, it has to be for everyone. Allow people to work shifts out amongst themselves based on personal needs at the time. You’d be surprised how willing someone might be to work a late shift if they know down the road they will get the same consideration when they need it. Creating an atmosphere that not only allows but encourages flexibility not only “reduces absenteeism and boosts commitment”, but will help you build a team of top talent.

With more and more workers working virtually and being geographically dispersed, flexibility will not be optional. Additionally, several studies have indicated that millennials will demand a more flexible environment. Why not take a leadership role in building a “Results Only Work Environment”?