Why Flexibility Can't Be Temporary

by Megan Nash, IFpa director, education and talent

Making the best of it is not the same thing as getting the best out of our team members. Many organizations pivoted quickly to address employee needs uncovered and amplified by the pandemic. If we are being honest, many of these challenges existed before the pandemic and we were conducting a bit of a balancing act that toppled under the global shakeup of lockdowns, school closings and remote work.

Many of these challenges overwhelmingly impacted those employees with families and specifically, according to Deloitte, women. They have taken on the lion’s share when it comes to home and childcare duties. Where we were once making the best of difficult situations, many of us, especially parents, have been forced to choose from a series of less than favorable solutions.

This stress is creating what’s being call the “Great Resignation,” with many leaving or changing jobs to find new opportunities that match or meet new expectations. Women, however, are increasingly leaving the workforce altogether, citing caregiving responsibilities. This trend was rising over the last three years and spiked in 2020 due to the dramatic changes in family care resources.

So, what do we do about it? We are at risk to lose an entire generation of women in the workforce. The highest resignations are coming from women in management level roles. We are losing those responsible for the future talent within our organizations. These are the women being prepared for future leadership roles and developing and mentoring new talent for success. Losing this talent permanently will have a devastating impact on the years of progress the produce and floral industries have made in attracting women to the workforce. What can we do to retain talent in today’s environment?

  1. 1. Consider the gender lens.

In many cases, we’re reinventing how we work. We also know that women are underrepresented in leadership in certain industries (agriculture being one of them) which means that they may not be at the table when important company policy changes are being made. As an organizational leader, you can support your female employees by using the gender lens when you consider and build new policies – especially around how work is done. This can help to uncover blind spots and pain points and help you to accomplish a more equitable employee experience. That’s not to say that these policies will only help women. For example, if you’re considering flexible work hours, making room for employees to step away from work for an hour in the afternoon for school pickup can help mothers, fathers and all caregivers trying to balance childcare and school schedules.

  1. 2. Embrace flexibility.

I’ve heard the joke that managers struggled the most in the pandemic because they couldn’t just pop by and check on team members in the office. Now, we know that the role of a manager is far more than simply taking attendance, and we’ve had over a year to learn new ways to measure and assess our team members’ success and productivity. Being productive has become more successful than simply being present. And let’s be honest, if productivity isn’t the most important thing, then what is? Flexibility of hours, work location, and more has transformed the way that many accomplished their days. With kids at home virtually learning, the ability to start an hour early in order to take an hour off mid-day to serve lunch helped keep things moving at work and at home and made many employees feel supported by their employers. Many people thrive working in an office, and others have discovered a new level of success without the distractions of a bustling office. In places where the work can happen in different ways, the flexibility doesn’t have to be temporary. Embrace it. Embed it in your policies and consider how to latch on the new approach to being productive over being present.

  1. 3. Listen to your team members.

Recently, Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison shared results from a survey their firm conducted about why employees were considering leaving their job. The No. 1 reason was a concern with company purpose and culture, and the No. 2 reason – a concern with leadership. These two answers accounted for over half of the respondents. What’s important to consider here is not only that many people, especially those who are coming up on the other side of a tumultuous work year of adapting, pivoting and changing, are feeling disconnected from their company’s vision and purpose but also that if you’re not asking your team what they’re thinking, other people are. There are countless surveys going out to employees across industries right now, which is showing a universal experience and not one contained within specific industries. Employee stories are everywhere. In many cases these stories are driving the efforts across all industries to establish a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce. So many different people have been “making it work” for a long time. The pandemic, with its universal disruption, was the breaking point for many people and for many of our systems. This is the perfect time to talk to your team members, and see what they’re worried about, what they’re proud of, and where they see themselves within your organization in the future. Help your team reconnect and reinforce your organization vision.

As the Great Resignation grows, it will not only create an “employee market” where employees can be more selective in the roles they take, but with many companies having openings, it means that the competition for new talent will also intensify. New talent will not consider flexibility a perk; it is an expectation. There are a lot of things from the pandemic that we may want to forget, but there are also a lot of things that we have learned and will take with us moving forward. This is the perfect time to think about how we can create policies and company cultures that don’t just ask our team members to make the best of it, but really bring out the best in them.

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