Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across the country have accelerated their understanding of what it means to have workplace flexibility and how it impacts the futures of their employees. For many businesses, workplace flexibility means not only transitioning from in-office operations to remote work but beyond that to extending parental leave and encouraging paid time off.
As workplace flexibility continues to grow in significance for employees in 2021, it’s important to note how companies can also benefit from competitive policies and practices. Employee performance and productivity decrease for as much as one-third of the workforce for organizations that offer less flexibility in terms of parental leave, paid time off and remote working, according to Harvard Business Review research. Similarly, in a competitive job market, employers are more likely to see higher turnover and lower retention rates if they do not invest in changing with the times.
Newer practices that encourage parental leave, time off and remote work benefit both employers and employees, which is why workplace flexibility is essential to keeping up with the changing needs of the modern office.
The growing significance of parental leave
One of the many challenges employees have faced during the pandemic has been the struggle to balance career and family. The 2020 Women in the Workplace study from McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, states that up to 2 million women are considering leaving the workforce in part due to caregiving responsibilities at home. However, investing in or extending existing paid parental leave, as well as engaging new parents in policy conversations, creates increased flexibility that can optimize the employee experience.
An additional study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research suggests that paid parental leave increases the likelihood that employees will return to work after childbirth. It’s always in a company’s best interests to prevent turnover, so re-examining your parental leave policies is a solid place to start improving your company’s workplace flexibility.
Opening the conversation to parental leave strengthens employee relationships with the company. The same research from iWPR shows that parental leave can yield benefits beyond employee retention through improved worker morale and possible positive effects on productivity. By creating an open conversation and clear policy updates to your company’s parental leave, you create a channel for two-way communication that minimizes ambiguity.
Encouraging employees to use paid time off
No matter how the job market changes, paid time off plays a significant role in the relationship between you and your employees. While working from home has notably increased due to the pandemic, it doesn’t mean that employees feel encouraged to use their time off benefits fully.
In fact, many US employees did not use most of their time off this past year according to CNBC. This may be because the US doesn’t mandate employee vacation days, unlike other advanced economy countries. Your company can counter this by encouraging employees to take advantage of vacation time through your HR department and leadership. To set the standard, create accessible guidelines and policies that clearly outline the expectations of paid time off and vacation time options. Also, be sure to lead by example and utilize your own paid time off.
By emphasizing employee well–being through paid time off, your company will foster a flexible work culture that normalizes work/life balance boundaries. The perks of encouraging employees to use paid time off extend to after employees return to work, too. Employees reported increased positive work mood, reduced stress, and increased productivity following a vacation, says the American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence.
In a year contingent on workplace flexibility, it’s essential that your departments actively motivate and foster a company culture that normalizes vacation time as part of employee wellness.
Preserving the future accessibility of remote work
In the past year, most organizations have mostly transitioned from full-time, in-office work to remote options for their employees and it doesn’t seem like offices will revert to pre-pandemic office life anytime soon. That isn’t to say those offices will become obsolete, but it does reflect the new abilities of workers to maintain productivity from home.
According to the Accenture Future of Work Study 2021, 83% of 9,326 workers surveyed prefer a work environment that allows for remote work at least 25% of the time. The study confirms that remote options for employees are not only wanted but also beneficial to your organization. Specifically, 63% of high-revenue-growth companies have allowed work-from-anywhere work options, while 69% of negative or no-growth companies favor an all on-site work model. The data shows that organizations should preserve current remote work options for employees as a key productivity strategy beyond the pandemic.
But to fully support a hybrid strategy that increases remote opportunities, your company must also meet your employees’ new needs, says PwC’s US Remote Work Survey 2020. To work-from-anywhere, employees may require access to proper equipment, which may include laptops, monitors and/or printers. Open communication with your organization’s teams to figure out how to best provide necessary technical support. Clear boundaries must also be established for work hours and availability as working from home can confuse responsiveness expectations. Your company can strengthen both trust and personal connections by meeting these key employee needs.
Now, more than ever, companies are embracing workplace flexibility from parental leave to time off to remote work — and reaping the benefits of it. As COVID recedes, employees are also seeking organizations that keep up and improve their flexibility options. By engaging with employees and soliciting feedback on current HR policies, such as parental leave and time off policies, your company can create realistic goals to meet employee’s work/life balance needs. Likewise, reach out to your employees to understand what specific topics need to be addressed to build on the work-from-anywhere opportunities that grew under the pandemic. Employers and employees benefit from workplace flexibility, so don’t forget to incorporate it into key productivity strategies for the future.