The Power of Seeing Real People Balance Work and Life

By:  Kate Bravery, Partner in Mercer’s Career Business and Global Practice Solutions Leader

Originally published on LinkedIn, March 13, 2017

Hope you caught the BBC interviewee being interrupted on air by his children last week (Prof Kelly and his children). This video is now a viral sensation and reminded me of my own reality as a leader with young children.

This great image—little ones toddling into Prof Kelly’s office during his live interview—is raising questions around the issue of flexible working: how to get it right? what is now acceptable? And, the power of seeing people balance it all. Let’s take a quick look at what we’ve recently found out on this topic and I’ll share some tips from Mercer’s busy work/life environment – consultancy lends itself well to juggling!

Top Global Talent Trends: Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends found that flexibility was top of the list when people were asked what they wanted more of at work. The reality is that employees want more control over where they work and when, especially those with young children. And that applies to both men and women. For an employer, offering flexibility can be a very strong part of the value proposition and an indicator of how the organization view its workforce – not just as employees, but as mothers, fathers, caregivers and people with a life that exists beyond work!

We at Mercer are often asked by organizations to help with strategies that can enhance their employees’ overall engagement and productivity. Our Talent Trends study clearly shows that a growing majority of employees care greatly about flexibility, but raises questions about whether bosses are listening:

  • 40% of global HR managers acknowledge that “offering more flexible ways to work” would improve their employees’ ability to thrive. But while 63% of companies have workforce flexibility policies in place, only 35% say that it is a core part of their value proposition. This figure is even lower in Europe and Asia (just 29%). So why are we neglecting to focus here?
  • In fact 1-in-4 HR professionals said that when flexibility happens it is often due to individual circumstances and manager discretion. This is just not good enough. If this is what the future looks like, when will flexible arrangements become a right, not a privilege!

We also asked employees about their experiences of flexible working and their responses were especially illuminating. While most generally feel their managers (61%) and colleagues (64%) would support them, many have had a different experience on the ground:

  • 1-in-3 employees who said they requested a flexible work arrangement in the past year shared that their request was turned down.
  •  And 1-in-2 employees expressed concern that working part-time or remotely would negatively impact their promotion opportunities. Surely we can be doing more to create an environment that is more conducive to blended lives?

So here are some suggestions for employers:

  • Performance vs.presenteeism : Create a culture where performance is valued more than presenteeism. Emphasizing performance will help reduce the fear an employee has of being negatively rated because of his/her choice of work location.
  • Flexible work arrangements need to be woven into the employee value proposition and be communicated as a “business as usual” practice rather than a “benefit”.
  • Digitalize mechanisms for frequent feedback and collaboration to ensure that flexible work arrangements deliver optimum business results.

And here are some suggestions for the remote worker:

  • Set your out-of-office response when you are working on projects that require your undivided attention. This will let people know that you are there, but busy.
  • Be present when you are not at work by avoiding looking at your smart phone. Work-life integration is not just about managing your multiple roles effectively, but also about setting great examples for your children.
  • Don’t forget your role in creating an inclusive culture when you’re on virtual calls and the need for learning, experimentation, and fun when you are not meeting face to face. Instant messenger and less formal ways to communicate can be great here.
  • And, of course, make sure you lock your study door when you are live on air!

Learn more about our findings from the Talent Trends study.

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