Does your job offer a flextime policy or flexible work schedule? We all need the option to (sometimes) work from home, leave early or arrive late to take care of family, and get away from our desks for personal reasons. I am always advocating for flexible working arrangements on this Time Off blog for a number of reasons. For me it’s about having the flexibility to work remotely while traveling with my wife. If your company isn’t offering flexible policies, think about how flexibility might solve your own work-life balance problems.
As part of an ongoing series of interviews, I reached out to an expert on how to leverage work flexibility and enjoy better time off for life. Does your job offer flexibility in the way work is done? There are many times when employees need to shift how, when and where they work and manage their lives. I had the unique opportunity to discuss these work-life “fit” challenges with a leader in what she calls “high performance flexibility”.
Cali Williams Yost runs the Flex+Strategy Group (subscribe to the flexible work culture blog). They advise companies on how to unlock performance and engagement at the core of work flexibility, technology and workspace. In this exclusive interview, Cali talks about working flexibly, the concept of work+life fit, and searching for a job that offers work flexibility that is meaningful and real. Of course she’ll also touch on vacation policies including advice on how to take paid time off in a flexible and sustainable way.
Are you ready to tweak your job and schedule to gain the ideal balance that you deserve? Here are the answers to your questions about flexible working as it relates to time off benefits and productivity.
Your work+life fit is something you manage, day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year. Your work and personal realities are always changing. Some of those changes will be out of your control, but there are always aspects of your work and life that you can influence. Even the smallest intentional task or priority you complete as part of your work+life fit can make a big difference in your overall sense of happiness and well-being. That includes taking time off. It doesn’t even have to be a grand vacation. It can be as simple as visiting a local museum, taking a hike in a local park. Everyone can do that, if it’s something that matters to you. I call that “tweaking it.”
People consistently report higher levels of productivity and engagement in organizations that support flexibility in the way work can be done. The reason is that it reinforces that ability to be intentional about how, when and where you work best, and manage your life. For example, depending upon your job, perhaps you work remotely when you need to complete a project that requires focused attention. Then you use the two hours you save round-trip by not having to commute to engage in other meaningful activities such as time with family, exercise, or going to the doctor. That feels great.
First, I would recommend not talking about work flexibility as a benefit. Work flexibility that is meaningful and real is part of the operating DNA of that business. So the best way to approach is to say, “How, when and where do people this job typically work?” If they say, “Um, in the office, every day between these hours,” then you know the flexibility isn’t real—even if there is a bright-shiny policy on the website. If however, they say something like, “It depends upon your job, and these are the ways most people with that type of job are able to work. As long as they are doing their jobs well it doesn’t really matter.” Then you know it’s part of the DNA, or “how we work here.”
A flexible work culture happens when the question “what do we need to get done and how, when and where do we do it best?” is asked at all levels of the organization in an intentional, collaborative, strategic way. Start by looking around and noticing even the small ways it’s already happening successfully. Can you work from home “when you need to”? That’s flexibility. Can you leave early for your child’s soccer game or a doctor’s appointment? That’s flexibility.
Then think about how that could be taken to the next level in your organization—are there tasks we do that could be done better and more efficiently if we could work remotely more regularly? Are there core hours we could flex around? Then share these observations and ideas with your manager. Ask him or her what she thinks. Then the innovation begins.
I think unlimited vacations are attractive in theory but not in practice. Do they save employers money because they don’t have to deal with the liability of accrued, unused vacation? Yes. But when vacation is unlimited, people tend not to take it. When there is a limit, e.g. you have three weeks of vacation, it’s a concrete number of days to work within.
Here’s what I think is the optimal solution—Unlimited vacation with a minimum number of days that are mandatory each year. And those days don’t rollover. I also think there needs to be coordinated vacation/PTO planning system in each group that a manager oversees. It encourages people to plan and commit to their days off in advance, as well as identifies vacation coverage buddies so you can feel more comfortable not having to check in regularly.
Yes, I do: 1) Schedule your PTO as far in advance as you can. 2) Mark the day before you leave for PTO and the day after PTO as busy. That will allow you the time to wind things down at work before you leave and deal with any last minute important issues and meetings. And it will allow you the space to ease back in when you get back.
3) Before you leave, clarify an availability protocol with your manager and your team. For example, I will not check email; however, if you need me please call or text. If I don’t get a call or text, I am assuming all is well.
The clocks and walls that used to tell us very clearly where work ends and the other parts of our life begin (including PTO) are gone and they are never coming back. That increased flexibility in the way we work can offer even more creativity to fit work and life together, including PTO. It just means we need to be even more intentional and planful about how we are going to reach out and use to be our best on and off the job.
Cali Williams Yost is an internationally-recognized workplace strategist and futurist. She is the Founder and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group, a solutions company that helps visionary leaders unlock performance and engagement by reimagining how, when and where their people work, and manage life. An honors graduate of Columbia Business School, Yost is the author of two books Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You (Penguin Group) and Tweak It: Make What Matters Happen to You Every Day (Hachette). She lives outside of New York City with her husband and two daughters and sits on the Board of her local YMCA.
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