Although recent economic trends suggest the United States is coming out of a recession, many employers in Kentucky are still suffering the effects of the economic slowdown.
Income reductions, stock market losses and fewer-than-expected retirements have forced employers to make difficult decisions. Some businesses have shut down, while others have reduced costs through employee layoffs, reduced contributions to employee healthcare plans, and slashed budgets for development and travel.
However, history tells us we’ll move out of this recession, and organizations that use this crisis to rethink and even reinvent the way their work is done will be at an advantage. It is a time of opportunity.
The reinvention process is an important one for organizations to consider because, from operation hours to beliefs about face-time, work processes established generations ago during the industrial era remain in practice today. Over the past three decades, however, we’ve evolved from an industrial economy to a knowledge- and service-based economy, and technology now significantly influences how, when and where work is done.
And family life dramatically changed. There are more single parents, more households with dual-earners, more men who participate in child and elder care, and more grandparents who are actively involved in raising their grandchildren.
Worker demographics are changing also. We now have more workers over 45 years of age than under, women are beginning to outnumber men in management roles, and Millennials – who prioritize work-life balance over the corporate ladder – are entering the workforce, challenging conventional ideals.
Though the road ahead may seem unclear and the idea of reinventing how business is done is daunting, there is no going back. Thriving in the 21st
Century requires innovation.
University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd established the Institute for Workplace Innovation (iwin) in 2007 to create a link between research about innovative work environments and practices that shape them. iwin is among the first centers of its kind in the United States to engage regional employers in learning about and creating an organizational culture that is good for both the organization and the individual.
Employers can become involved with iwin through its webinars, workshops, customized consultations, Web-based resources or its Innovative Employer Roundtable.
To illustrate the meaning of innovative workplace practices, iwin developed the Innovative Workplace Model (see chart), which defines eight key dimensions of an innovative workplace. These eight dimensions drive important
organizational outcomes, including employee engagement, performance, retention, work-life fit and health.
A key dimension for creating innovative workplaces that will thrive in the 21st century is flexibility. Popular workplace flexibility practices include flextime, telecommuting, part-time work, job sharing, phased retirement, phased job re-entry and compressed work weeks.
Take, for example, a manager who offers a range of starting and quitting times for her employees. The hours are covered and employees work a schedule that better suits their lives. Another example is an hourly worker who “shift-swaps” with coworkers when unexpected events arise, allowing him to address emergencies without losing pay.
Workplace flexibility is becoming the most requested employee benefit. Why? Because it is a no- or low-cost option that grants employees more control over their time. And while time is money, control over that time is even more valuable.
Younger workers may want to flex their time to go to school, volunteer or train for a marathon. Working mothers and fathers may want workplace flexibility to attend school functions or to take children or elderly parents to medical appointments. Older workers may want part-time work to remain active in their retirement years. And finally, managers may want to offer flexibility after seeing the bottom-line impact through improving employee health, engagement, retention and recruitment, as well as customer satisfaction and sales.
“We’ve found that the complexity of our workforce is dynamic, and we must frequently update our data and approach as well,” said Karen Hill, vice president/nurse executive at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington. “We learned to ask employees what flexibility is to them. In doing this, we’ve designed programs like flexible scheduling, seasonal employment and job sharing to meet the identified requests. Efforts such as these have enabled us to have a less than 3 percent organizational vacancy rate … and turnover is below national standards for healthcare.”
“Workplace flexibility initiatives help us create and maintain a culture where our associates can be engaged in their work and be successful members of a team environment that focuses on our primary company goals,” said Tony Felts, communications director for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Louisville.
“One measure of our success can be seen in our voluntary turnover rate, which has dropped to just 3 percent, a good indicator of employee satisfaction.”
Both Central Baptist Hospital and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield are ?Partners of iwin’s Innovative Employer Roundtable and have received national attention for their leading efforts in workplace flexibility. In fact, 38
Kentucky organizations were nationally recognized last year through the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility, a national
competition made available to Kentucky organizations through iwin. All organizations that apply receive benchmarking reports that compare their practices to those conducted nationally, and winners gain mention in the Congressional Record, in local media and are honored at a statewide award ceremony.
The Sloan Awards highlight the synergies in workplace innovations across the state. I encourage every Kentucky employer that practices some form of flexibility to apply for the Sloan Awards (visit iwin.uky.edu for qualification information and to apply).
With its vast popularity and relatively low implementation cost, workplace
flexibility is a great place to start the intimidating process of reinvention.