The Key To Employee Satisfaction

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Outside of compensation, there’s one thing that the majority of employees want today, says Helen Kupp of the Future Forum.

Aside from pay, what’s the key ingredient to keeping employees satisfied in their jobs?

Flexibility, says Helen Kupp, senior director of the Future Forum and co-author of the bestselling book, How the Future Works. Kupp spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about how to offer employees the flexibility they need, what it does for them—and how it benefits the organization.

Your Future Forum research suggests that flexible work is almost as important as compensation when it comes to what employees want. Why do you think this is, and how has the pandemic impacted this?

Flexibility has become an essential part of the equation—second only to compensation—for people when thinking about job satisfaction, and it’s not hard to see why. Despite working in the middle of a pandemic, a crisis, people’s working lives have improved due to flexibility.

Our research from Future Forum shows that flexibility has improved work-life balance, stress and anxiety, ability to focus and overall satisfaction with their work environment. More importantly, we’ve gained these benefits while also improving overall productivity.

The pandemic has given us this opportunity to experiment with remote and flexible work at a worldwide scale and debunk all the myths that we had about why in-person office work was necessary. We’ve all had a collective awakening to the fact that the 9-to-5 job doesn’t work for most people, and probably never did!

You say that flexible work is about more than just where we work—it’s also about when we work. Can you explain?

We often get stuck thinking about flexibility just in terms of “how many days are you in the office”—just look at return-to-office policies being covered in the media. Future Forum research reveals that 79 percent of knowledge workers want flexibility in where they work, but nearly everyone (94 percent) wants flexibility in when they work. That’s because if you’re still in back-to-back meetings from 9 to 5, whether you’re doing that from the office or at home, you still don’t have autonomy or control over your day. That’s not the flexibility that people are asking for or want.

Alongside the preference for schedule flexibility, well-cited academic research also highlights that “burstiness,” or bursts of rapid communication followed by longer periods of silence, is a hallmark of successful teams. Rather than being constantly “on” from 9-to-5, with flexible work we see successful teams create explicit working norms that enable bursty work while enabling people to also have more schedule flexibility back in their workday. For example, some teams adopt core collaboration hours, typically three to four hours, where a team can expect to be live or in meetings.

You argue that flexible work offers a number of benefits to both employees and the organization’s bottom line. What are some of them?

We know that talent drives competitive advantage, and flexibility is key to retaining the best people in your organization especially when knowledge workers who say that they have little to no schedule flexibility are 2.6 times more likely to be looking for a new job in the next year.

There are so many different benefits to flexibility, but one I’ll highlight is how flexibility has become an important tool for leaders in their DEI efforts. The office culture was never the right environment for everyone to thrive, especially those traditionally underrepresented like women, people of color and working moms. We’ve seen in our Future Forum research that employee experience scores (specifically sense of belonging) are rising since the broad adoption of flexible work, especially for people of color. It’s no surprise then that these are the same groups who want and need flexibility more than their white counterparts.

By creating a work environment that is more diverse and inclusive, we are better able to retain and engage people, and better able to tap into their unique skills and potential. And we create the right environments for them to be their most creative and innovative. All this without a loss in productivity. That’s a win-win for companies and their people.

How can organizations better strategize and implement flexible work in the future in order to better engage with their employees and succeed in their industries?

One of the most important pieces of making flexible work successful is leading by example. If you have rolled out flexible policies but your executive team is still coming into the office five days a week from 9 to 5, you are sending a different signal that the office and headquarters is where the opportunities are.

Consider hiring executives that are more distributed, both in time and place, so that everyone feels like they have some level of access to senior leaders. Implement leadership guardrails (like “leadership limits of executives only spending two days in the office max”) to ensure that behavior change is modeled at the top.

Finally, we have to recognize that there isn’t a perfect blueprint for the future of work. One size doesn’t fit all. That’s true across organizations and teams alike. Leaders need to be open to experimenting and continuing to listen to feedback from their people about what is and isn’t working. Organizations need to support their leaders and managers with tools to drive these conversations, along with space to share best practices and learnings with each other.

The opportunity we have today is truly enormous. We have a chance to reimagine how work gets done, to break bad old habits, and make work better for people and companies.

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