The recession has had an impact on the workplace flexibility movement. While employers are cutting staff and asking everyone to do more with less, one of the last things on many workers’ minds is asking for any kind of worklife flexibility accommodations—unless you are Gen Y.
Gen Y is placing worklife flexibility on the top of their list at a time when most people are more concerned with getting a job and having some security. This is a generation that isn’t afraid to ask for what previous generations didn’t—even if the timing seems odd. They don’t want the same work environment their parents had and it appears that we’re reaching a tipping point in terms of worklife flexibility, with some businesses seeing the wisdom of allowing employees to telecommute and change the 9-5 workday. Work, home and fun are blurring—the home is not just a home anymore but also a workplace for increasing numbers of people.
Why don’t more people telecommute? It appears that in the list of flexible workplace policies, telecommuting might be the most stigmatized. According to a survey of professional women, 35% of employees felt the flexible policies at their company were not usable because of “various aspects of their organizations” cultures that effectively penalized people who took advantage of such policies. In fact, 39% of the women reported some form of resistance to it. Why all the push back on worklife flexibility? Is this a trust issue? Is it a fairness issue? Is it about generational differences? Is it fear of the unknown? It might be a mixture of all of them.
Let’s take a closer look at how telecommuting worklife flexibility can benefit your company and employees while placing you in a competitive position in the Gen Y talent market.
1. Telecommuting isn’t just about working from home—it is working from anywhere other than the office or where the company is located. Technology has made working remotely much easier and convenient—all you need is a phone and a computer with Internet access. It helps employees balance work and family obligations, and is particularly appealing to Gen Y.
- According to a 2010 survey by the National Small Business Association, the amount of employers who encourage or allow telecommuting jumped to 44% in 2010 from 19% in 2007.
2. Telecommuting and virtual teams have already become part of the American business world-flexible work policies or not. It is just a matter of time before more companies realize that expecting home-based weekend work without allowing some home-based weekday work just is not going to fly anymore—especially with Gen Y. When Gen Y workers go home, they’re still working because who they are personally and professionally have become one and the same. They are always representing the company, and more and more, it seems, work doesn’t stop for anything or anyone.
- A 2009 study by the Telework Advisory Group revealed that Generation Y-ers account for 42% of the telecommuting population.
3. If you want the most qualified candidates, you need to be looking outside the box, and telecommuting is one of the ways to do that. When the Baby Boomers finally do retire, the skilled worker shortage will get a whole lot worse. Companies that get ahead and build real cultures of workplace flexibility are going to have the staffing advantage and the competitive edge. Telecommuting allows Gen Y employees to work on a schedule that fits their personality at a time of day where they feel most energized to do their work. Telecommuting allows companies to draw from a wider pool of candidates because they’re not geographically limited.
- “Workplace flexibility helps businesses succeed and employees thrive by giving people an integral role in deciding how, when and where they do their best work,” said Henry G. Jackson, Chief Executive Officer of Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
- More than one-third (37%) of Gen Y workers would take a pay cut if it meant more flexibility on the job, reports a study by Mom Corps.
4. Do telecommuters work less? If you think about it, nothing really forces someone to work when they don’t want to even at the office. You can get people spending most of their time chatting with neighbors at the water cooler, watching videos, texting or doing something completely unrelated to work. Sure, you could police the halls, filter your network and block unwanted websites, but you can’t block everything—nor do you want to spend all your time and resources on doing so. Let’s not forget that the Gen Y employees of any given company are responsible adults, capable of making decisions for them. Are you laughing? If they’re not, why were they hired in the first place?
- Studies have also shown that telecommuters are more productive than their office-bound colleagues, use less sick time and have improved morale.
- American companies could add more than $260 billion annually to their bottom lines and consumers could save $228 billion if eligible employees worked from home. -Lister and Harnish
5. Gen Y-ers are more comfortable with technology and have been primed for telecommuting. They don’t see the office building as a defining structure of where you do things. This generation has grown up in a digital and virtual world. They can be anywhere, so the boundaries that older generations grew up with, thinking this is where you have to do something, isn’t present at all in this generation. So the demands for them to be in an office building sitting at a desk down the hall from their boss seem kind of crazy.
- Eighty-five of the 2012 Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For listed allowing employees to work from home at least 20 percent of the time.
- According to Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting from College to Career, office environments will be mighty quiet in the next few years. “People will work at desks a lot less often; instead they will work from home, a coffee shop or a shared space.”
- This tendency to work away from the office may affect companies’ real estate decisions as well. A report from flexible office space company Regus and Unwired released earlier this year found that even now 55 percent of cubicles sit vacant at any given time (while employees tussle for meeting rooms).
For Gen Y, work is a significant part of their life, but they don’t compartmentalize it like some other generations. Physical spaces are pretty meaningless to Generation Y, making telecommuting a desirable option for them. Yes, their work style is very different. Whether it’s right or wrong is a whole different debate, but the fact is they’re the up-and-coming generation and 80 million strong. Mobility and technology are not going anywhere for them—it’s a part of who they are.
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