We hear about corporate flexibility, family policies, "new age" virtual approach to work so frequently that it's almost white noise now. The employee benefits space certainly has its buzz words and annual benefits trends. There is data (I love data) and analyst reports. But when push comes to shove, how well does your company pivot on a dime for its people? Either in times that impact all staff or for an individual employee's expected crisis, are you REALLY flexible for your people?
Dark Ages of Flexible Benefit Design
To the credit of employers today, times have certainly changed since I began my career back in late 1993. At that time, I'm not sure that the term "flexibility" was even spoken out loud within corporate office walls. I was blessed with a fantastic and fairly flexible boss out of the gate after college, but outside of that, my company followed traditional corporate process. Personal illness - use your vacation time. Having a baby - take unpaid leave if you're the mother. Vacation time - start low and earn your way to time off. Major weather event - get yourself to the office unless the governor declares a State of Emergency. I don't even want to recall the weather conditions I drove through in my rear wheel Honda out of fear of missing work.
Flexibility, Highly Engaged and Effective
Let's fast forward 25 year (ouch!). If you are located anywhere in the Northeast right now, you're digging out from our latest Nor'Easter. It's been snowing at my house now for about 28 hours and we have just shy of that many new inches of snow on the ground. (Did I mention that it is actually still snowing?) Storms like this - and essentially anything else that may throw a wrench into my life - are truly not a concern as it relates to my career now. I am employed by a highly flexible company. And I would walk through fire for these people. We have an open PTO policy. We utilize virtual work communication, project and document management tools highly effectively, and most of us work virtually twice a week. Flexibility and the trust required for it is built into our company values. It just is part of us. So when a monster of a snow storm moves into our area, none of us have that fear about missing work. We all hunker into our homes and continue to be engaged and highly effective - even while wearing penguin pajamas and shuttling our kids out of our home office space.
This year, I was more amazed the day before the storm. I began to get a variety of emails related to companies I frequent - my bank, the gym, medical offices, a large grocery chain, restaurants, etc. Our entire office park officially shut down. All of them were notifying me of their closure on storm day "for the safety of our employees and customers." It's not only for their safety. It's because their children are home from school; they'll have childcare issues if they have to work. It's because having to continuously shovel 24.5" of snow to get to work, when not one customer is going to come in, creates stress and possible health issues for employees. It's because in today's world, many of us can remain 100% engaged and effective from home. And it's because the good will that a company earns from acknowledging the wellbeing of their people - and their people's people - is more important than "just being open."
Your People's People?
Flexibility around individual weather events is an easier case to justify than investing in an ongoing, highly flexible employee benefits plan for your employees' daily lives. Yet this event is a microcosm of the storminess that can swirl around your employees' minds and lives daily. Every day, at least 20% of your people are struggling with issues at home with their own people- their families. When these personal storms roll in, are you flexible for your people? Do you have policies that enable them to remain highly engaged and effective when dealing with the storm of their people? A modern company that promotes flexibility does not simply pivot for well publicized weather events. It moves in strategically planned ways around the individual storms of its people - with their people.
Have you moved towards a benefits strategy for your people's people?