Flex culture no benefit if you only pay lip service

Is your company’s culture flexible, open, adaptable, entrepreneurial? Or are the words that spring to mind “hierarchical,” “process-oriented” and “traditional?”

One of the most important benefits employees are seeking is a flexible work culture. Unfortunately the good intentions of many employers fall short of the reality of the workplace.

Every organization has a culture, a set of shared values, assumptions and beliefs, a way of thinking about and tackling the problems and opportunities that it faces. Sometimes, that culture is a tremendous asset in driving the organization towards success. Sometimes, culture is what turns an organization that looks great on paper into a confirmed underachiever.

Organizational culture is not a “one size fits all” type of issue. A healthy corporate culture is one that is consistent with the organization’s vision, mission, and values. The optimum culture for an organization will be determined by its size, the stage it has reached in its life cycle, its market, and the type of product or service it offers, among other factors.
There are organizations that achieve and maintain success with a culture that focuses on adherence to established policies and practices, cost-containment, and a cautious approach to change.

However, with the rapid pace of change in today’s business world, organizations with these types of cultures are increasingly at a disadvantage. With businesses grappling daily with new markets, new competitors, new technologies and new legislation, survival often depends on the ability to embrace change. This requires a culture that supports innovation, adaptability, and flexibility.

The human resources department plays a central role in monitoring the corporate culture, ensuring that it is in line with the overall business strategy. Turnover, absenteeism, and recruitment difficulties are often indicative that something is wrong with the corporate culture. When an organization is being undermined by a dysfunctional corporate culture, positive HR policies and practices can facilitate the creation of a culture that is flexible, innovative and employee-friendly.

Perhaps the most effective way of driving this change is the implementation of HR policies and practices that are, themselves, flexible, innovative and employee-friendly. It is all too easy for organizations to pay lip service to the idea that they should be “committed to innovation and flexibility” and that “employees are the most important resource.” Too often, these kinds of phrases are written into corporate mission statements, and never read or thought about again.

Flexible work practices, such as flex-time programs, telecommuting, flexible pensions and benefits, and work/life initiatives give practical effect to these kinds of commitments.

They send a clear message to employees that their organization is itself willing to change and embrace new practices in response to changing realities.

Transforming corporate culture can be a major undertaking. One of the keys is consistency: if behaviours and attitudes in keeping with the new vision are not consistently rewarded, they will never take root. For example, implementation of a flexible hours program may be a powerful step towards transforming a corporate culture that equates hours spent at work with commitment.

However, it will be of small use to implement such a program if senior management never take advantage of it, and promotions and pay raises continue to go to those who are seen to spend the longest hours in the office. Employees will conclude that participation in the program is a death knell to their career hopes, and it is likely to fail through lack of participation.

In such a case, the lack of participation can hardly be taken as an indicator of low interest in these types of programs.

To avoid this type of result, it is essential to ensure that managers will be in these programs, as well as buy in.

Specifically, that managers and supervisors are trained to administer and support new programs in a way consistent with the new corporate culture, and that communications are extensive, clear and directed towards a change in attitudes and values.
When thoughtfully and carefully implemented, flexible work practices can be the engine for the transformation of the corporate culture.

Lauren Bates was formerly an editor with CCH Canada. For more information please contact Rita Mason, she can be reached at (416) 224-2224 ext. 6275 or [email protected].

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