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Should Flexibility be a Reward for High Quality Performance?

There are a great many insights we can get on the Federal workforce by looking at the Best Places to Work survey conducted by Partnership for Public Service, but one struck me as particularly revealing. In looking at the data from the 2012 survey, we can see that only four in ten Federal employees believe they will be rewarded for doing good work. This is not surprising, given the impact of the pay freeze, the sequester, and furloughs. A recent article in Excellence in Government, “The Federal Government Does a Terrible Job of Recognizing High Performers,” suggests that one way to provide non-monetary rewards for government employees is to offer Alternative Work Schedules (AWS) and telework. This is not the first time I have seen this suggestion, and I am sure that some employees do see more schedule flexibility as an important benefit. But should we really be looking at workplace flexibility as a reward for high quality performance? I disagree – for two reasons.

Reason One: Workplace Flexibility should be an intrinsic part of the way we work – all the time. It is not a special reward for excellent performance but a part of the environment in which all employees operate. If we have employees who need training in how to work effectively in a mobile environment, then we should give them training. If we do not trust employees to work in this environment, then we need to understand why that lack of trust exists and repair that gap. Sending a message that flexibility is reserved only for a select few sends the wrong message and may actually reinforce the behavior that resulted in the less-than-excellent performance in the first place.

Reason Two: There is no necessary tie between high quality performance and the spaces where we work. The type of environment that supports excellent performance varies by the work process performed and the workstyle of the individual. Some work processes require extensive team interaction or the use of work tools found only in the office. Other processes can be performed anywhere, any time. In addition, work styles vary. Some people work better in an informal environment; others work better in a traditional office space. Some people get energy from working in a busy environment, while others need a quiet space with no distractions to focus their attention on tasks. Performance matters – as do rewards for contributions above and beyond expected requirements — but it’s time to move beyond the idea that flexibility is a special benefit for a few.

You can find the Excellence in Government article at: http://www.govexec.com/excellence/promising-practices/2013/06/federal-government-does-terrible-job-recognizing-high-performers/65531/

Please note that the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

In working with OPM to design a telework course for supervisors a few years ago, they were pretty adamant about communicating the fact that telework is *not* a reward or privilege. It’s a strategic decision to allow trusted employees to work from home.

As you also said, it’s important for managers to walk through an employee’s position description and ask, “Where can the person most productively accomplish each task?” That exercise might reveal that 70% of a person’s responsibilities would be completed more efficiently in a place where they are not being distracted by the buzz and activity of an office space, and that they should explore telework as an option – but, like you’re saying, that kind of decision is tied to mission achievement vs. a reward for good behavior. In fact, this kind of situation might be the right solution for a *poor performer* whose productivity has been inhibited by a traditional office space – who might thrive and improve when working from home!

Terrence (Terry) Hill

First, I have to say that the government is not good at identifying high performers/high potentials, let alone rewarding them. Secondly, we are limited in our ability to reward them, once they are identified. Flexibility is not always an appropriate reward, since not everyone is motivated by the prospect of flexibilities. The key is to design rewards that are customized to provide the appropriate reward that matches the employee’s preferences. Flexibilities are no longer seen as rewards, but are basic expectations for all positions. Not providing these are de-motivating, but providing them is merely meeting expectations.

Steven Ollek

Excellent, excellent points. I struggle with this internal with my organization – the lack of trust with teleworking, alternate work schedules, etc. That is the big question in the room – are you technically working and productive working virtually or pounding away at a keyboard in a large cube-farm? I would submit that certain organizations haven’t made the leap because of the uneasiness with that decision and leap of faith that has to occur. The ultimate goal is to hold people responsible and accountable for performance and meeting objectives, rather than putting in the 40 hour work week (or in our case 32 due to furlough!!). 🙂