“Flexibility doesn’t mean, ‘My personal life takes precedence over my work.’ It means, ‘I have the ability to make both work, but I’m going to make sacrifices in both arenas at times,’” says Delta Emerson, executive vice president and chief of staff at Ryan, LLC.
If anyone can speak to the true meaning of workforce flexibility, it’s Emerson. At Ryan, a Dallas-based tax services firm with 900 employees worldwide, workforce flexibility is engrained in the culture, something she couldn’t say about the firm four years ago.
In 2007, voluntary turnover at Ryan had spiked and was hovering around 20 percent, and it didn’t take long for Emerson to figure out why: “The balance word kept coming up over and over again,” Emerson recalls from her conversations with employees both in the office and during exit interviews. “People would say, ‘This company expects me to give my entire self. I have no balance in my life.’” But Emerson knew employee survey feedback and exit interview anecdotes wouldn’t be enough to convince CEO G. Brint Ryan (pictured above) that the company needed “a major paradigm shift.” She needed to talk money.
“We put a great deal of money into hiring the right people and training them. If somebody leaves after only two or three years, it’s a huge cost to us,” Emerson says. Add to that the costs associated with lost production from trying to replace and train new consultants, and the loss was even greater. “When Ryan started looking at metrics, those were numbers that spoke to him.”
The Tipping Point
Ultimately, however, it wasn’t Emerson who convinced Ryan to create more flexibility, but one of the company’s employees. “She said, ‘Brint, I love this job, but here’s my resignation. I’m leaving,’” Emerson recalls. The manager was leaving for a job that offered flexibility – which just happened to be at a competitor.
That was the “tipping point” for Ryan, who finally realized everything he stood to lose. Not only did Ryan decide then and there to invest in a flexible work program, he even convinced the employee to stay and work with the committee in charge of creating it. Ryan tasked the workplace design team with creating an infrastructure focused on measuring individual and team results, as opposed to where, when and how long employees worked.
Ryan gave Emerson and her team six months to launch the program – an incredibly tight turnaround for the amount of details involved in the project. “We had to figure out how you make this happen to be compliant with State and Federal laws for benefits and employees who are exempt and nonexempt, and all that. Let alone the training to get it rolled out,” Emerson says.
Despite the amount of work to be done, myRyan made its debut on August 1, 2008, right on schedule.
myRyan Reaps Rewards
Now, four years later, Emerson credits myRyan with helping the company “do a complete 180,” in terms of employee morale. “People love the flexibility myRyan affords, and they’re not hesitant to say that,” Emerson says. The positive response has had a domino effect on all aspects of the business. Not only has voluntary dropped by half, but company profits, client satisfaction scores and net promoter ratings are at an all-time high.
The program has also become the company’s “most powerful recruiting tool,” according to Emerson. She estimates that myRyan plays a role in about 85 percent of new hires’ decisions to accept an offer there. The program is even drawing former employees back to the company, as well as earning Ryan local and national recognition. The company has collected numerous “best places to work” awards in recent years, and last year, Brint Ryan had the distinction of speaking at a press conference on Capitol Hill, alongside Admiral Mike Mullen, on the value of workplace flexibility.
A Continuous Learning Process
While myRyan has been an enormous success, Emerson says the program is still a work in progress. Some people have a harder time getting used to the flexibility than others, creating the need to continuously re-evaluate the program. “You have to keep looking at it and figuring out what’s working, what’s not working. Work with individuals who are struggling with it, but make sure you equip them with the knowledge and tools so that they can be ready.”
Implementing Change: Three Things to Know
For anyone hoping to implement a “major paradigm shift” at their own organizations, Emerson offers the following advice:
- Find what works for you: “What worked for us won’t work for everyone. We’re happy to tell people our story and what we learned, but we can’t say, ‘Do exactly like we did, and you’ll be fine.’”
- Involve your employees. “You have to have everybody involved so they have a piece of it. That way, when you encounter a pothole, they’re more likely to work with you than point at you and say, ‘Hey, you screwed up.’”
- Anticipate growing pains. “Not everybody’s going to be thrilled with the concept of flexibility, and you’re going to have to manage to that and anticipate it.”