Prioritizing Workplace Flexibility As A Cultural Imperative

While the pandemic’s effects forced employers into an uncomfortably reactive position, managing their way through this experience proved that flexibility is a critical asset. The work environment has undergone some lasting changes, and acknowledging this shift frees employers to focus on overcoming the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Prioritizing workplace flexibility has become a cultural imperative that’s more than a single decision or policy change. It’s a value that nurtures the ability of organizations to respond resiliently to future change, helping ensure business continuity and growth.

Formal processes to approve and transition a relatively small number of employees to a nontraditional work setup are no longer a perk. As a new normal takes hold, work-at-home and other flexible arrangements are becoming a new standard.

At this stage, many employers are figuring out which adaptations to keep and which policies to reinstate. Fortunately, decisions are somewhat simplified because concerns about where work gets done, and when, is less important for many roles. That’s a welcome development with employers now forced to focus more time and attention on their employee value proposition (EVP). Attraction, engagement and retention depend on finding different and better ways to create stronger employee ties.


Required competencies for leading from a distance
Managing talent in a virtual world benefits from a flexible approach to leadership by operational teams and the organization. It’s important to deal with issues at an operational level instead of outsourcing resolution to HR by default, which can create constant pressure between managers and employees. By reimagining how to collaborate more effectively and adapting expectations for individual employee circumstances, outcomes can be improved.

Autonomy and trust are essential to motivate remote workers and maximize their productivity. Engagement drivers for these employees include: 1) structure and expectations set by their managers and leaders, 2) an understanding of changes that affect their teams or roles, and 3) assurance that individual contributions make a difference to the customer experience.¹

Educating managers on how to prioritize people issues, and encouraging this behavior, improves both the employee experience and operational efficiencies. Video conferencing (74%) and having more frequent team calls (65%) are two ways to help preserve a more personal level of connectivity and keep people informed and engaged.²

Connecting and motivating employees at every level
Even with the best intent under ideal circumstances, change without purpose just feels like hard work. Employers that recognize this disconnect are revisiting and recommunicating the organization’s mission and values — sensitized to a flexible working world. The promise of the EVP is core to this effort as an expression of appreciation for the entire workforce. In fact, top communication outcomes targeted by over 4 in 10 employers include clearly articulating for employees how their contributions contribute to the organization’s success (43%) and helping them understand its vision, mission and values (41%).²

Effective change management demands transparency when directional shifts occur. Messages that define purpose and values, voiced sincerely, will help employees stay confident, focused and productive. Often, information on the pandemic’s organizational impact has been delivered by senior leaders, increasing their visibility and demonstrating control, to set expectations or provide reassurance.

Some organizations are not only changing how much they interact with employees, but also the focus and tone of their messages. As long as the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 affects everyday life, emotional wellbeing will be a challenge for the workforce. Providing listening channels, establishing a centralized information hub, communicating consistently in an empathetic manner when appropriate, and offering a reasonable level of flexibility can lessen the effects.

Daily and weekly communications kept employees current on the tactical implications early in the pandemic. The cadence of communication changed, though, as employers and employees adjusted to an altered work environment. By August 2020, related messages were delivered only as needed among 51% of employers, compared to 32% in April.³ Overall, this experience has increased employers’ recognition that effective communication is the connector that holds everything together.

Operational managers and leaders have an important role moving forward, yet communication isn’t always the most natural skill set for employees who are otherwise very effective. So there may be a need to equip them with training and tools to ensure they’re in tune with employee needs and communicate effectively. These teachable skills are now essential to meeting communication objectives.

Managing organizational and employee wellbeing with a flexible mindset
Without employee wellbeing, there’s no organizational wellbeing. Compared to when the pandemic started in the U.S., 39% of employers have experienced a decline in employee emotional wellbeing.³ Fostering a flexible yet connected work environment helps to maintain interpersonal relationships and reduce burnout. The latter indicates low engagement, which is both a productivity risk and a strong predictor of turnover.

Employers are poised to improve upon 2020 this year. Specific expectations include expanding or adding emotional wellbeing support tools (30%) as well as communication programs (21%).³ Employees who feel supported have a greater sense of control over their lives — a state of mind that creates a reservoir of resiliency and helps them bring their best selves to work each day.

A culture of flexibility motivates engagement and productivity in the present, and draws in new or furloughed talent to drive future success. Employees will remember how their organization handled layoffs or furloughs during the pandemic. For those who were directly affected, their experience may determine their interest in returning, or whether they amplify a positive or negative message in the talent marketplace.

The ongoing evolution of flexibility
A practical first step toward a more agile organization is to assess current capabilities, identify strengths and set future goals, but this process doesn’t have to be perfect. Authenticity and transparency do much of the legwork — and cultural flexibility is an iterative and ongoing process instead of an endpoint. By continually adapting and improving, employers are better positioned to handle disruption.

¹Gallagher, “Driving Connection and Engagement in a Remote Workforce,” May 2020
²Gallagher, “Benefits Strategy & Benchmarking Survey,” September 2020
³Gallagher, “COVID-19 Sustaining Organizational Wellbeing & Resiliency Through a Crisis Pulse Survey,” September 2020

Kathleen Schulz is Global Innovation Leader, Organizational Wellbeing at Gallagher.  Kathleen can be contacted at: 
[email protected]

Consulting and insurance brokerage services to be provided by Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. and/or its affiliate Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc., a non-investment firm and subsidiary of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., is a licensed insurance agency that does business in California as “Gallagher Benefit Services of California Insurance Services” and in Massachusetts as “Gallagher Benefit Insurance Services.” Investment advisory services and corresponding named fiduciary services may be offered through Gallagher Fiduciary Advisors, LLC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Gallagher Fiduciary Advisors, LLC is a single-member, limited-liability company, with Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. as its single member. Certain appropriately licensed individuals of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. subsidiaries or affiliates, excluding Gallagher Fiduciary Advisors, LLC, offer securities through Kestra Investment Services (Kestra IS), member FINRA/SIPC and or investment advisory services through Kestra Advisory Services (Kestra AS), an affiliate of Kestra IS. Neither Kestra IS nor Kestra AS is affiliated with Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. or Gallagher Fiduciary Advisors, LLC. Neither Kestra AS, Kestra IS, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., nor their affiliates provide accounting, legal, or tax advice. GBS/Kestra-CD(3383659)(exp122021)
Investor disclosures

This material was created to provide accurate and reliable information on the subjects covered but should not be regarded as a complete analysis of these subjects. It is not intended to provide specific legal, tax or other professional advice. The services of an appropriate professional should be sought regarding your individual situation.

“World’s Most Ethical Companies” and “Ethisphere” names and marks are registered trademarks of Ethisphere LLC.

© 2021 Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Share this post:

Comments on "Prioritizing Workplace Flexibility As A Cultural Imperative"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment