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Editor's Note: This week, we illustrated three ways flextime can transform the workday. Here, Cali Ressler, co-author of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It and founder of the ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) platform, explains why employee flexibility must be coupled with accountability.

The way people approach work is becoming as personal as the clothes they wear, and for employers that recognize and support this, the benefits are endless. As referenced in this recent Harvard Business Review article, when employees have the freedom to decide when, where and how they work, their productivity skyrockets, customer satisfaction increases and the bottom line is positively impacted.

And we’re not just talking about young people wanting to break out of the mold. A recent study from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that a significant number from all generations would be willing to give up pay and delay promotions in return for autonomy. The study is a stark contrast to the landscape of decades past where employees were told work was their entire life until retirement and the company would determine when, where and how they did it.

Today, job seekers want to live meaningful lives while they work for you. Remember that old adage, “No one ever wishes they would have worked more on their deathbed”? The phrase is front of mind for job seekers today – not because they lack motivation, but because they know they’ll deliver better results if they have control over how they spend their time. Employees need work to be a balanced part of their lives, instead of an obstruction. 

So, what kind of work culture attracts today’s job seekers, and remains a good fit for them once they’re hired? What kind of culture is a good foundation for productivity, efficiency and the all-important bottom line?

Balancing the Scale of Freedom and Responsibility

The answer lies in a results-driven work environment, where employees are given clear expectations and flexibility in how they deliver these results. When employers offer autonomy and accountability, they establish a level of trust and respect with their employees. The age-old balance between freedom and responsibility ultimately leads to a thriving business – engaged employees producing quality work and exceeding customer expectations.

Building a foundation for balanced autonomy and accountability is far from easy, and sustaining a results-driven culture takes dedication. At some point or another, the scale is likely to tip in favor of autonomy over accountability, and vice versa. Understanding the consequences of both situations is critical.

A workplace heavy on autonomy and light on accountability can lead to a culture of entitlement, where employees are overly concerned with what they think they deserve and what the extrinsic rewards will be for meeting expectations. Goals are typically unclear and performance management practices are weak. In this scenario, employees are well-off, but the organization suffers. 

On the flip side, heavy accountability and light autonomy can easily generate too much stress, leading to employee burnout and high levels of voluntary turnover. Even if operational practices are top-notch, goals are clear and performance management is strong, the level of control people have over how they do their work is low – employees will suffer, and the organization will be difficult to sustain long-term.

It’s not difficult to see how just a slight tip of the scale one way or the other can have dramatic effects on the employee experience and your company’s bottom line.

Results, Results, Results

In order to create and sustain a fine balance between autonomy and accountability, focus must be on one thing: results. 

For example, perhaps you manage a team with endless activity: sales call after sales call, meeting after meeting, hours on hours being logged. People appear very busy. But when you stop to look at the actual outcomes of the work, do they meet or achieve expectations?

You need a system in place to objectively measure achievements – it's not enough for an employee to say "I worked 60 hours last week!" The old currency of work (time + presence) used to earn accolades, but the workplace of the 21st century recognizes that the amount of time and presence, whether virtual or physical, does not equate to results.  

The anchor of a great company lies in clarity of objectives and your employees' ability to make beneficial, smart decisions about how, when and where they meet these objectives. When results are clear and measured, everyone wins. 

The conclusion? 100 percent autonomy in exchange for 100 percent accountability. It’s the new employee agreement. 

Photo: Shutterstock

Cali Ressler View all

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