American businesses are finding out that because the workforce has changed over the recent decades, the traditional workplace environment must also change in order to keep the business efficient and successful.
Over the past few decades, the U.S. labor force has grown faster than the overall population, mainly due to the fact that older workers are staying in the workforce longer. Older Americans are healthier and more active, making them less likely to retire just because they reach the age of 65, and social security benefits will eventually rise to the age of 67 for people born in 1960 or later. A recent AARP survey found that 79% of the baby boomers plan to continue working during their retirement years.
The continuing growth of the labor force means that younger workers must compete with older seasoned ones, and companies must work harder to retain experienced workers. Providing an environment that promotes equality, camaraderie, and opportunities for growth will help businesses attract new workers and retain older ones. The key to developing this type of workplace is flexibility in approach-a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).
Developed by consulting group Culture Rx, ROWE is a new way of working that provides employees more responsibility and accountability for their work and the way they do it. There is no specific schedule and no tracking of how employees spend their time. The record-keeping focuses on efficiency and productivity, and the bottom line is that no results equals to no work done.
Although the approach is a huge change from traditional workplace thought, many businesses that have adopted the concept are seeing dramatic results. For example, Best Buy switched to a ROWE approach in 2003, and since then 60% of the 4,000 workers at its headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota, have converted to the new way of working.
The company estimates that its turnover cost per employee is USD 102,000, but its ROWE teams have 3.5% less voluntary turnover than its non-ROWE teams, so workers in a more flexible environment will stay longer-thereby reducing the cost of replacing them. By converting the entire headquarters to ROWE, the company estimates that it will be able to save up to USD 13 million a year in employee replacement costs.
Workplace flexibility means different things to different people, but usually it means how and when work gets done, how workloads are managed, and how careers are organized and structured. It improves recruitment and retention, encourages employee diversity, improves job satisfaction, and reduces stress. Some of the ideas behind it include:
- Less rigid scheduling of full-time hours, such as having a range of new-age arrangements that include flextime and 4-day workweeks.
- Flexibility in the number of hours worked, such as increasing the number of part-time or part-year positions available.
- The ability to have a career path with multiple points for entry, exit, and re-entry into the workforce.
- The ability to address unexpected and ongoing personal and family needs, either short-term or episodic time off.
Although it may be harder for large companies to provide workers with such options, they can provide more direct-cost benefits such as 401K retirement plans, near-site or backup child care, employee assistance programs, or tuition reimbursement.
Despite the barriers to offering flexibility, there are many advantages for businesses including improved productivity, higher quality of work, little or no change in the workload of managers, and greater employee retention. The benefits for workers are more obvious-a greater work/life balance, reduced stress, and a positive feeling about going to work and staying with a company.
Now, more than ever, workplace flexibility is a benefit that can help companies rise to the top in a highly competitive global economy. American workers can pick and choose where they want to work, so companies must find new ways to retain their best talent while attracting new workers.