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Workplace Flexibility Is Growing -- so Why Are Employees Afraid to Take Advantage of It?

By Maurie Backman – Feb 21, 2020 at 9:36AM

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Though many workers crave flexibility on the job, the fear of backlash still exists.

There's much to be gained on both the employer and employee ends by adopting flexible workplace policies. Companies that grant workers more leeway are often rewarded in the form of added effort and additional flexibility by their workers, whether by logging on after hours or addressing work issues while away on vacation. And employees who are awarded flexibility can benefit from an improved work-life balance and, in some cases, child care- and commute-related savings.

In fact, in a new Deloitte survey, 94% of professionals agree that they stand to benefit from increased flexibility in the workplace, with the primary perks being less stress and improved mental health. And for the most part, employees who are already privy to flexibility are taking advantage of it, namely by changing their hours, doing their jobs remotely, or working from home.

Smiling woman at laptop with small lamp pointed at her from behind

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

But despite all that, employees may not be all that comfortable with the idea of flexible work arrangements. In fact, 30% say they'd be hesitant to take advantage of workplace flexibility for fear that it could lead to negative career consequences or inhibit their professional growth.

If your company is aiming to offer a more flexible setup, it pays to take the added step of making it clear to employees that capitalizing on that flexibility won't hurt their careers. Otherwise, you may find that your efforts to offer more leeway are largely in vain.

Workers shouldn't fear flexibility

Flexible work arrangements can, in some cases, backfire in the same way unlimited vacation policies can. When workers are afraid to take advantage of these perks, it creates an air of uncertainly that helps no one. The solution, therefore, could boil down to clear communication and setting expectations.

Rather than roll out a flexible work policy that a large chunk of your employees are too afraid to benefit from, hold team and companywide meetings where you talk up the importance of work-life balance. Encourage your workers to take advantage of the chance to ease their schedules, reduce their stress levels, and improve their quality of life, on the whole. Make it clear that employees who work from home or change their hours to better accommodate their child care needs won't be penalized monetarily or professionally, and that the intent of your company's policy isn't to weed out the less dedicated, but rather to retain talent for the long haul.

At the same time, communicate the fact that more flexibility should not translate into less accountability. Instead, clarify that workers are expected to maintain their current level of productivity or perhaps increase it -- something flexible arrangements often lend themselves to.

On the employee side, don't hesitate to enjoy the flexibility your employer is offering. At the same time, though, be mindful of your performance and output to ensure that neither one slips.

While 80% of working professionals today agree that regular office attendance and standard hours are important for career advancement, it's more than possible to adopt a flexible schedule and still achieve success on the job. The key is to make good use of flexible work policies rather than abuse them so that in the end, everybody wins.

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