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Making a Progressive Work Culture Work

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I live in Philadelphia, so we're just starting to get caught up in the back-to-school rush that comes at the beginning of fall, unlike my Southern counterparts who have been back at it for a couple weeks now. But it got me in the frame of mind of learning from good examples, specifically best business practices. By sharing these examples, we might spark an idea or a thought about something new.

Here are what some of the nation's best organizations are doing to build happier, more engaged and loyal employees.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
I was recently directed to an interview with Donna Hyland, CEO of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, where she shared what the system does to retain working parents. For a little background, 80 percent of Children's employees are women and about 64 percent of those women are working mothers. Since this employee group is such a significant and critical part of its demographic, Children's leadership recognized that they had to be a talent strategy focus.

A few years ago, nearly 65 percent of mothers going out on maternity leave were not returning, leading to very expensive employee turnover. To address the issue, Children's introduced its Great Expectations program in which they coach families on what to expect when a new child comes into the home and offer other forms of support. Since the introduction of the program, retention of new mothers has jumped to 90 percent. Quite an excellent result.

Key takeaway: Most turnover isn't productive, and many organizations face this mass exodus of working mothers and even fathers. As employers, it doesn't make a lot of sense to lose talent just because we aren't having conversations with employees about the best way to align work and family and making the often small adjustments that will keep them around.

AltaGas Ltd
Mickie Ashman, an employee of this energy infrastructure firm, enjoys her job, the paycheck and benefits that come with it, but she also values having time to do what she loves. The 66-year-old human resources coordinator has what she describes as the ideal work arrangement for those nearing retirement -- the security of a permanent job at AltaGas and the ability to reduce her hours from full-time to three days per week.

In order to retain the skills and experience of their aging Boomers, this Canadian company is pioneering flexible arrangements for their elder employees. Nicole Arienzale, director of human resources and administrative services, explains, "We have had baby boomers coming down the pike and getting close to that age, and so we want to look more frequently at flexible arrangements."

Key takeaway: According to a Sun Life Financial survey, 59 percent of Canada's boomers are expecting to gear down to part-time, freelance or shortened work weeks as they do not yet wish to retire. Boomers in the U.S. have similar preferences. With flex policies such as these, the elder set can achieve the "phased retirement" they are seeking and employers can retain their skilled expertise a little longer while gaining time needed to transfer information and skills down the ranks.

Ernst & Young, Aflac and MITRE
Gen Y, or the Millennial generation, is turning the traditional workday on its head, according to a 2012 top trends report from Euro RSCG Worldwide. Thanks to technology, a 9-to-5 workday will no longer be the norm. According to this TIME piece, "New evidence shows that we're reaching a tipping point in terms of workplace flexibility, with businesses seeing the wisdom of allowing employees -- young ones especially -- to work odd hours, telecommute and otherwise tweak the usual 9-to-5 grind." Leading the shift in alternative work options are companies such as Ernst & Young, Aflac and MITRE, as they have realized that retaining Millennials means paying more attention to work as it fits into life, not how they compete.

Key takeaway: According to the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, by 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will be made up of Millennials. Understanding their need for work/life alignment will help companies to better recruit and retain young talent for the future.

The overwhelming lesson here? Workplace flexibility and progressive work practices, when it comes to retaining all employee groups, is growing in importance. There needs to be a mindset shift in how we communicate with our teams, how we schedule the workday, and how we view employee results and productivity. I welcome your thoughts, best practices and examples of doing this well.