In this week's blog: Surveys show that having flexible working conditions is a key value for younger workers. So to recruit and retain these younger workers, you need to embrace flexibility.
It only took two days for the bank to backtrack...
In early March, BNY Mellon told its 50,000 employees that they could no longer work from home.
According to Chief Executive Charles Scharf, they believed it would help collaboration to have more employees together in the same physical space.
But the backlash from employees was fierce, with immediate threats of lawsuits. So was the reputational damage.
MP Jo Swinson tweeted: “I feel like sending a fax to BNY Mellon to tell them it’s 2019… or maybe a carrier pigeon?”
Within 48 hours, Scharf had to send his staff an apologetic letter, saying he had “listened and learned” to their concerns, and would review the flexible working policy further.
Scharf had made one critical mistake, which every company – yours included – can learn from.
Before I reveal the mistake, I should say that I fully understand CEOs and managers who want to curb flexible working.
If you’re from my generation or older, the desire for flexible working can be mystifying. It just wasn’t the done thing, when we started our working lives.
In one of my first jobs, everyone had to be at their desks at 9am sharp – and all men had to have their ties on by 9.50am. Why? Because the boss turned up at 10am, and woe betide any staff member who wasn’t present and looking the part.
Many of my generation tend to believe that you have to be sat at your desk to be productive…
…that you should come to the office dressed up rather than down…
And we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, if we end the year without taking all of our annual leave. Now that’s dedication!
I still enjoy this more formal way of working, as do many of our employees.
But the younger generation – those who started coming of age in the early 21st century, and are ‘digital natives’ – see things differently.
Surveys show that having flexible working conditions is a key value for them.
In one academic study, younger employees were asked to pick the top two factors that motivate them to stay at their jobs. Flexibility was the top choice, chosen by 59%. It was followed by proximity (43%), enjoyable work (29%) and work environment (27%).¹
This includes not just where they work from – home, or perhaps a local café or library – but also the way they dress at work. They don’t want to be forced into suits and ties.
And they don’t want to work a traditional 9-5 either. Not long ago I read about a recent college graduate who told his boss that he couldn’t stay late to finish a project because he had concert tickets that evening.²
Most older workers would never dare say that out loud. They are more likely to stay, while grumbling under their breath…
It is easy to condemn the younger generation as slackers who are not committed enough to their work.
But that is not the case. They simply work differently.
Scharf’s mistake was to think that he could change them.
You see, their expectation for flexibility is ingrained. Unlike my generation, they have grown up with technology that allows them to work from anywhere, any time. They thrive on this technology - It is part of their makeup.
If you are going to recruit and retain these younger workers, you need to work with this characteristic – not try to fight it.
So if you recognise that your staff are going to routinely work from out of the office or out-of-ours, give them the tools they need to do their job.
For example, equip them with laptops, not desktops. Or ensure that the intranet and any other resources they need are accessible from outside the office.
And ultimately recognise that a better work-life balance is a good thing, which we can all benefit from. It should not be the preserve of younger workers only.
Research by Business in the Community has shown that by ages 55-59, nearly 40% of workers want to reduce their working hours.³
Many might be supporting ageing parents as well as children. Allowing flexible work patterns can be a good way to keep them in the workforce and motivate them.
Make the opportunities available for those who want them, and model flexible working yourself.
And whatever you do, once you have granted your workforce some degree of flexible working, do not imagine it is easy to reverse course…
¹ Smith, S. & Galbraith, Q., 2012. Motivating Millennials: Improving practice in recruiting, retaining and motivating younger library staff. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 38(3), pp. 135-144
² Sujansky and Ferri-Reed's (2009) Keeping the Millennials