Grant High Potentials Greater Flexibility

By Bob Nelson

A key part of any retention strategy — especially for high-potential employees (HIPOs) — should include adopting flexible work arrangements. Progressive companies are realizing that restructuring full-time work to include alternative work options, such as flextime, a compressed work week, and telecommuting, can be beneficial to both the employee and the employer.

In fact, today roughly 42 percent of employers do offer some form of flexible scheduling, and the result is an increase in profits as well as employee satisfaction. According to the American Management Association, “Allowing flexibility improves work quality: companies with flexible scheduling options report absenteeism is cut by as much as 50 percent.”

As an integral part of its ardent effort to retain HIPOs, Ernst & Young developed Lotus Notes, a unique database that encourages employees to test alternative work styles. The purpose of the database is to share information throughout the firm about existing flexible arrangements.

“With 27,000 employees across the United States, there were bound to be a lot of terrific success stories around flexibility that weren’t known beyond their local areas,” says Deborah K. Holmes, then national director of EY’s office for retention and the creator of the database. “What’s groundbreaking about this database it that we’ve gone beyond policy and truly focused on practice. We wanted to make sure that places in our firm where flexibility had been thriving could become role models for other places in the firm, and that’s what happened.”

At Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers), more than 600 people, including three partners, used some form of flexible work arrangement. The company also introduced a firmwide telecommuting pilot to assess the viability of working from home full-time as another flexible work option. In addition, the firm conducted an in-depth workplace flexibility study to learn more about how, where, and when their employees work — looking at what works and what does not.

In recognition of the importance of personal time for employee well-being, the corporate law firm of Morrison & Foerster expects its lawyers to bill 1,800 hour per year, or roughly 36 hours per week. This compares to an average of about 2,400 a year, or more than 46 hours per week, at most major law firms. This allows the firm’s lawyers to create a better balance between work and personal lives — and boosts employee morale and loyalty.