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Hourly Workers and the Case For Flexibility


By now we know flexibility is a top priority for job seekers. Almost half of professionals have left a job or considered leaving one because it lacked flexibility. While study after study has surfaced the same sentiment—workers want and need flexibility—there’s just one problem: few have studied the long-term effects of flexibility (or lack of thereof) for hourly workers.

When we discuss employee engagement, it’s important not to overlook a whole segment of hourly workers across retail, restaurant, hospitality, and other industries. These workers often don’t have work emails or other communication tools, and many don’t access a computer at all for work. Some work part-time, and others work over 40 hours each week. Whether restaurant servers or retail store managers or contingent workers at a software company, most have something in common: they tend to have the least flexibility.

The Sloan Center on Aging and Work reported on a Deloitte study that asked employees whether their managers granted them enough flexibility to meet personal and family responsibilities. The employees who agreed that they had access to flexibility scored almost one-third higher in their commitment to the company, which often manifests in engagement scores.

The impact of a non-engaged workforce

So why is having an engaged workforce so critical? Non-salaried workers are critical to the growth and prosperity of the U.S. economy, according to WFD Consulting. As the economy continues to grow, it’s expected that the number of lower-wage, hourly workers will continue to grow. It only makes sense that we begin focusing on the stability and productivity of this segment as we move forward. And flexibility can and should play a starring role.

Outside of societal factors, dealing with disengaged employees or employee turnover puts a real strain on businesses. The cost to replace a retail employee who earns $10 an hour is roughly $3,328. Shockingly, replacing a salaried employee costs only slightly more, around $4,129, according to SHRM. The potential impact of injecting this segment with more flexibility has a huge payout for businesses, even if it seems as though it would cost more up front.

On the flip side, highly engaged employees become customer service heroes, ultimately adding immense value to a business. As we recently blogged, engaged employees are essential to the customer experience. Grocery chain Wegmans, for example, focuses on meeting the needs of its employees through keeping them engaged, all while knowing it contributes to how they represent the company.

Can flexibility be a reality for hourly workers?

WFD Consulting published a study on “Innovative Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers,” with the goal of creating broader awareness of the positive business and employee impacts of flexibility for lower-wage hourly and non-exempt workers. The research they gathered shows that lower-wage workers generally have less access to voluntary flexibility than higher-wage workers, even though if it were to be available to this population, it could have powerful outcomes. The paper also offers arguments for why flexibility is a necessity for hourly, contingent, and/or non-exempt workers, and provides best practices for making flexibility a possible and profitable part of your business strategy.

Flexibility is the product of a healthy, engaged work environment, regardless if its employees are hourly or salaried. In fact, we recently blogged about the 14 drivers of employee engagement. Several of the drivers—such as autonomy, manager relationship, and fairness—are components of a more flexible environment. In other words, when employees have autonomy over their work, managers who empower them to make decisions, and are treated fairly, flexibility follows.

The gift of flexibility for hourly employees

Harvard Business Review researchers Brenda Lautsch and Ellen Ernst Kossek argue that workers in hourly jobs that are paid close to minimum wage often struggle to get predictable and sufficient work hours to care for their families. They would benefit from more control over their work hours through flex-time, predictable and consistent time off, and ownership of their schedules.

There are three key areas of flexibility according to WFD:

1. Alternative work schedules.

2. Employee control over scheduling to accommodate personal or family responsibilities.

3. Flexibility during times of personal or family illness or emergencies.

It’s clear that flexibility and employee engagement go hand-in-hand. It’s rare that employees feel entirely engaged if they don’t have good work-life balance and flexible arrangements when they need them most. When we think about employees, let’s not forget about the large segment of employees who work in an hourly capacity. While they tend to lack flexibility, they are oftentimes the ones who need it most.

Getting to the bottom of the engagement issues for your workers is a great place to start for building a more flexible environment. We’ve created this simple 3-part kit to help you get started.