Flexibility for All: New Lessons From PwC’s Experience

Flexibility for All: New Lessons From PwC’s Experience

Today’s digital work environment has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for working outside the traditional model of 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, chained to your desk. While some jobs will always require employees to be in a certain place at a certain time, communications technology now makes flexibility possible for most knowledge workers in terms of where, when, and how they get their work done, at least some of the time. Flexible work is attractive to many employees, but it’s more than just a perk: Many organizations are discovering that it can help drive important business goals such as engagement, retention, productivity, and inclusion. To that last point, flexibility is now seen as a valuable tool for helping working parents and caregivers manage their home obligations without sacrificing professional growth and career progress.

One company that has had a positive experience with flexibility is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which over the past ten years has evolved a culture of “everyday flexibility” that makes flexible work available to all employees, regardless of their role or circumstances. Anne Donovan, U.S. People Experience Leader at PwC, recently outlined what the company learned in this process at the Harvard Business Review. One key lesson, she writes, is to “be ‘flexible’ when creating a flexibility culture,” rather than implementing a rigid, formal policy:

Flexibility for a caregiver might mean being able to leave work early to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. For a parent, it might mean taking a midday run, so evenings can be spent with their children. And for others, it could simply be taking an hour in the afternoon to go to a yoga class and recharge. When we look at flexibility this way, it’s easy to see why formal rules actually hinder adoption and progress. It’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach for flexibility. We let our teams figure out what works best for them, as long as they deliver excellent work, on time. The rest is all fair game.

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Employees Who Want Flexibility Are Often Afraid to Ask

Employees Who Want Flexibility Are Often Afraid to Ask

Work-life balance has become one of the top drivers of attraction and retention of talent. At CEB (now Gartner), the data we have been collecting through our Global Talent Monitor shows that this holds true across almost geographies, industries and demographics. Yet achieving better work-life balance continues to elude many companies and employees. Neil Franklin at Workplace Insight highlights Aviva’s latest Working Lives report, which finds that in the UK, employees are often afraid to ask for it:

Over one in five (21 percent) UK private sector employees – equivalent to 5.5m nationally – are too afraid to discuss flexible working with their boss because they think they will say no, Aviva’s Working Lives report claims. The findings come despite employees having the legal right to make a ‘statutory application’ to their employer to change their working pattern. Those aged 35-49 are the most likely to refrain from exercising this right despite the challenge some in this age group may face with juggling work and family life: nearly one in four (24 percent) shy away from starting a conversation for fear of rejection.

This fear is not unique to the UK or any segment of employees. Employees are often afraid to ask their manager for special treatment out of fear that their manager will look down on them and their performance. To overcome this fear, the Australian telecom company Telstra took an innovative approach: Rather than requiring employees to ask for flexibility, they turned the tables and made all of their roles flexible by default. If a manager wants to remove flexibility from a particular role, they have to explain why that role isn’t suitable for flexible work.

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