Part Two of a Three-Part Series
In this second installment of a discussion with Tracy Brower, Director of Performance Environments for Herman Miller, we explore a key factor that determines the probability of success for a company’s work/life integration policies. The first article in this series was in What is Work/Life Integration?.
JM: Tracy, your research has uncovered a discouraging statistic about companies that offer “employee friendly” policies (such as flex-time):
100% of companies surveyed said they have a large suite of these types of practices, but 80% of employees at these companies said they didn’t feel free to fully use those practices.
What’s causing this paradox?
TB: It is a paradox—a corporate culture paradox. What I’ve found is that in even the most progressive of companies, sub-cultures exist. The paradox is that a work team leader can create a sub-culture that is counter to the organization’s “open” and flexible culture. So, even if the organization as a whole is very supportive of these employee-friendly practices, there can still be pockets within the company where the leadership is more traditional—I call them “managing by the whites of their eyes” type managers. These leaders feel that if they can’t actually see their employees, then they aren’t able to effectively manage them.
JM: What’s type of leadership style best fits with an “open” organizational culture?
TB: It’s the “managing for results” leader—and those are the leaders who will support the more flexible workplace practices. Work team leaders are that critical link. They’re the “linchpins” for helping employees feel they can bring their whole self to work. Support of flexible work schedules is dependent on a person’s direct supervisor—if the work team leader is still old-school, employees will feel less comfortable availing themselves of the employee-friendly practices.
JM: So, it seems that trust plays a big part in making a flexible work schedule a viable option.
TB: Trust is huge. More companies are going to more broad “flexibility” policies, so the administration of it is up to the work team leader. For this reason, there’s variance in the perceptions and administration of the policies.
Trust tends to erode when employees perceive a gap between what the organization as a whole espouses (“we have policies to help employees achieve work/life balance”) and what the work team leader actually executes.
It’s really a two-way street—trust needs to flow in both directions from the work team leader and the employee. The work team leader needs to trust that employees are getting their work done, even if s/he can’t actually see them performing the work. The employees need to trust that their work team leader has their best interests in mind and will support them.
JM: Thanks, Tracy for that fascinating look at the role that work team leaders play in work/life integration. The third part of our series (which posts next Tuesday) will focus on emerging trends in the way we think about and organize our work life.