Do You Manage Flexible Work Options?

Many managers struggle with managing flexible work options like telecommuting, reduced work week, flexible work hours, working remotely, and temporary work. There are many aspects to consider even if your organization has a flexible culture and supporting policies.

It is the manager’s responsibility to know their organization’s policies about flexible work options and respond to requests accordingly. Managers are generally responsible for evaluating requests and monitoring the outcomes. When done well, flexible work arrangements can help to create a workplace of choice and support other critical employer best practices like employee engagement, hiring, and retention.

What are the benefits of flexible work arrangements?

Flexibility improves wellbeing and prevents burnout: Employees who have more control over their workdays can experience positive benefits to their mental well-being, including lowered stress, less burnout, and increased job satisfaction.

Increased Productivity: Employees are technology enabled at home and work and they have a good idea of how they can be most productive whether that means calling in for a meeting, finishing email in the evening or taking quiet time remotely to finish a project.

Engagement, hiring and retention: Flexibility can be a win-win for everyone, whether it is a temporary situation or one of a more permanent nature. Having a flexible work place recognizes diversity of needs and supports a family-friendly culture. It also acknowledges that everyone faces a crisis now and then…an elderly parent falls, a nanny quits, a family member becomes ill. People are at their best at work when they feel supported and acknowledged. These are critical components to embrace if you want to be an employer of choice.

What can managers do?

  1. Know the HR policies on flexible work options. Discuss the parameters with Human Resources.
  2. Familiarize yourself with how your EAP and Work Life program can help someone who has a child or eldercare issue. Sometimes people ask for time off before they even tried to solve the problem.
  3. Flex by example. Try not to overwork yourself. Try online meetings or working remotely and coach people on how to do this well.
  4. Talk to peers. Have conversations with other managers who may be more experienced with managing a flexible workforce.
  5. Have an open door. Unless you start relationships with your employees, you may not know what people need. People will open when they start to see you as someone who values diversity and is willing to work with others to find a good solution.
  6. Don’t make assumptions. Many people have invisible differences such as disabilities or family situations that are unknown to you. Offer each person an opportunity to talk and tell you what’s going on and what they need.
  7. Know that when people have personal demands such as eldercare or caregiving, there may be a stigma about asking for help. Try to recognize how hard this might be and thank the person for sharing it with you.
  8. Communication and setting performance expectations are key in making flexible work schedules successful for the employee and the company. If you have a 40 hour a week employee moving to 28 hours a week, you will need to consciously adjust deliverables, time lines, and perhaps scope of the role.

It’s up to each manager to balance the needs of the organization and the needs of employees. This is difficult work and can be very stressful. As a manager, in addition to working with your human resource professionals, you can also talk to one of our HR consultants in the EAP for brainstorming and support around these important issues.

4 Ways for Managers to Build Relationships

As a manager, developing relationships with your employees is key. One of the best ways to develop relationships is to make relationship building more conscious. This is easier said than done!

Why is it so challenging? First off, you might not be a natural relationship builder. You’re not sure about the boundaries in a manager and employee relationship. You feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. Whatever the reason, you can change by implementing some good communication strategies. Here are 4 techniques to practice:

  1. Be mindful about noticing people when you walk around the workplace. Notice how they seem to be doing. Say hello and if you say, “how are you,” mean it! Listen to his or her response and tone of voice. Does the employee make eye contact? Does his or her response fit with what you are seeing? How are you is an invitation to connect so be sure that you want to truly communicate.
  2. Ask follow-up questions. Follow-up questions indicate that you heard the response and want to hear more. If you are interested, follow-up with “what” or “how” questions. Now you are connecting!
  3. Ask for more information. If you want to get to the root cause of an issue, you must ask follow-up questions such as “How so?” or “Tell me more’” or “Why do you say that?” If it is a personal issue, it may lead to a constructive conversation about resources such as EAP that might be available to help. If you don’t probe, you might never get to the root cause of an issue. This is particularly important if a work issue is brewing and you have a chance to prevent a disaster.
  4. Resist the urge to talk. You may have lots to say about a particular subject but if you take up all the airtime and start giving your own examples, it won’t help to build the relationships. Use your best listening skills to ask more questions and really connect. Managers often have an answer for everything but demonstrating it now will only build up more of a barrier.

Remember that employees just want to be seen, heard and understood. Developing a trusting relationship is a natural offshoot of good communication. Using these techniques can help you to get better at a core managerial skill.

If you could benefit from support with improving this skill, call your EAP to get some coaching from a counselor. Relationship skills pay off, particularly if you apply them to both you work and personal life.


Managing Presenteeism

How can you manage something that’s often difficult to see? Presenteeism is much more difficult to observe than absenteeism, yet is more costly to organizations. Presenteeism occurs when someone is on the job, but not fully functioning. This can be the result of distractions such as personal problems, pain, illness, anxiety, or depression. Most workers will continue to go to work, even when they aren’t up to par.

Debra Lerner, a researcher at Tufts Medical Center says “We’re talking about people who hang in there when they’re sick and try to figure out ways to carry on despite their symptoms.”

Anyone can have a bad day, but presenteeism is particularly problematic when related to chronic illnesses, including mental health issues. Depression is often the root cause of many counterproductive behaviors. It may be more prevalent during difficult economic times when people are afraid of losing their jobs and resist asking for help.

What is the role of the manager with presenteeism?

  • Know that on any given day, 20% of employees are probably not at the top of their game.
  • Notice how people are performing and give feedback. “I notice that you seem to be distracted today. Is there anything bothering you that I could help with?”
  • Offer your support and creativity. You might offer flex time to a person who needs to get to the doctor, or a private office and phone for someone preoccupied with an issue.

Regardless of the root cause, a referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be helpful. “Have you thought about calling the EAP?” may be a non-threatening way to make a referral. A recent study by Chestnut Global Partners asked 13,400 EAP users to respond to the statement “My personal problems keep me from concentrating at work.” The results showed that presenteeism improved by 26.7% ninety days after EAP use. Studies like this are helping to make presenteeism less elusive and freeing up managers to address it.



How to Concentrate and Stay Focused

Many research studies have now shown that multitasking doesn’t work. It is virtually impossible to focus on two or more high-value activities without reducing your performance. You will be more successful in your work if you first identify high value projects and focus on those first. How?

First, make two lists; a project list and a task list. A project is bigger and includes multiple tasks. A task is a single thing that you can typically do in one session. Completing your most important projects will help realize your success over the year. Here are some steps:

  1. Make a project list and put an “A” next to projects of highest value. Those are the ones that will move you toward completing your larger goals.
  2. Pick your top “A” project and mark it an “A1.”
  3. Identify the tasks required to complete your “A1” You will know where to begin when you prioritize the tasks for your “A1” project.
  4. Check over your task list for any urgent issues that might come back to haunt you if you don’t do them now. This will prevent unnecessary crises. Don’t let this derail you from your high-value project.
  5. Before starting your work, pick a time frame to devote to completing the necessary tasks. For example, will you work on the project for 2 hours or all day?
  6. If you are a manager, you may have someone you want to develop. Consider whether one or more of these projects could be delegated. Try to avoid the excuse, “I can do it faster myself.”

Minimize distractions by putting yourself in the right environment, free of interruptions. Having a clean work surface may help you focus. Now you’re ready to practice mindfulness and concentrate on the project at hand. Observe yourself as distractions attempt to take you away.

In spite of best intentions we can sometimes be our worst interrupters. Notice your concentration and whether you are drifting away and thinking about something else. When that happens, gently bring yourself back, without judgment, to the job at hand. Don’t fragment your attention!

What’s your “A1” today?