I read last month that Netflix is once again pushing the envelope by offering U.S. workers unlimited paid maternity or paternity leave during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
Of course, Canadians are saying, “A year’s maternity leave? Yep, we’ve had that for a while now….” But for the U.S.—which has been notoriously stingy about parental leave—it’s a pretty big deal.
It’s also a sign of how the modern workplace is changing as employees push for more flexibility.
For example, a recent CareerBuilder survey of more than 1,000 Canadian workers finds 63% believe the nine-to-five work concept is outdated. “Workers want more flexibility in their schedules, and with improvements in technology that enable employees to check in at any time, from anywhere, it makes sense to allow employees to work outside the traditional nine-to-five schedule,” says Rosemary Haefner, the company’s chief HR officer, in a statement.
And large companies such as Manulife are moving toward open-concept “hotelling” arrangements with shared workstations. With improved and integrated technology, more employees can work remotely.
But, for senior leaders, some nagging questions remain. How do you know people who work from home are actually working? Are employees who come and go from the office less engaged with the company? Is greater flexibility a productivity killer?
Ben Hutt, CEO of The Search Party (an online recruitment marketplace), thinks it could be. “Because of the large amount of attention Netflix’s announcement is getting, other businesses might be tempted to follow suit,” he says. “This could potentially lead to productivity loss and abuse at companies that do not have a company culture similar to Netflix, which is built on self-reliance and trust.”
Here’s my perspective: I have two young kids, and I commute almost an hour and a half each way to work every day, taking public transit. So I’m all for giving employees more freedom. I believe people should be rewarded based on what they do, not where they do it or how many hours they spend on a task.
The key, I think, lies in manager training. Don’t know if your employee is working from home or sunbathing in her backyard? Well, as a manager, shouldn’t you know what your direct reports are up to? And if she still gets that report on your desk by 9 a.m. the next morning, does it really matter when she did it?
It’s also critical for a company’s HR policies to match its corporate culture and day-to-day experience. Because when those aren’t aligned, you’ll have a gap in expectations—and some seriously unhappy employees.
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