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SAP is letting employees personalize their flexible work arrangements

November 8, 2022, 12:38 PM UTC
Megan Smith, SAP head of HR, North America
Megan Smith, SAP's head of HR for North America, says the firm has embraced a more flexible work model for employees.
Courtesy of SAP

Good morning!

Want to win a workplace popularity contest? Offer your employees a four-day workweek. 

Condensed workweeks have won favor among employers worldwide who say it’s made employees happier and able to maintain productivity. But the fact is that four-day workweeks aren’t possible for all companies, especially large and complex organizations.

The enterprise software firm SAP had to come to terms with this reality, balancing the demand for shortened workweeks with feasibility. Its solution is offering flexible work options that provide the autonomy to select the best arrangement for them, says Megan Smith, SAP’s head of human resources for North America.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: What do you consider to be flexible work?

Flexible work means acknowledging that we all have personal lives that intersect with our professional selves. The opportunity to be flexible, in whatever way, is the willingness to have a conversation and cultural acceptance around the balance between the two. There’s got to be some holistic interplay because you can’t pause your personal life and pretend it doesn’t exist in the professional realm. 

The evolution of bringing your whole self to work, inclusion, and belonging is about feeling like your whole self is accepted, and flexibility is a key part. 

How did the SAP team land on its current strategy around flexible work? 

What we have talked about is the idea of compressed working hours. Do we truly need to dictate that everyone always works five days? We know that people want the ability to allow personal priorities like a doctor’s appointment to interplay with their workday.

People are saying those are key moments in their lives, and it’s not fair to miss those because of the rigid structure of a corporate workday. That is why at SAP, we’ve said, ‘Are those of us at the top the best decision-makers to tell everybody how they should work?’ Maybe not. Maybe we should empower people at the organizational and team level to have conversations about what they want, need, and, more importantly, what the business wants and needs. Sophisticated conversations, strong management skills, and leadership are where we’re focusing our efforts to ensure alignment.

When did SAP begin offering individualized flexible work options to employees? 

SAP has had hybrid work for at least a decade. That concept is not new. What is new is the pervasiveness and the degree of participation. Last year, we put together clearer guidelines and workshops for remote work. We want to make this purposeful investment in supporting everybody—not just those comfortable with it or those managers who are okay with it. Everybody gets to participate and have conversations about what, when, how, and where they’re working and what options are available.

What do you say to employees who still want a four-day workweek?

We have 25,000 employees in the region, so I’m sure some want a four-day workweek. As an organization, we’re not at a point where we could apply that to everyone. But we are willing to discuss what could work for employees and what could work for the business outcomes they need and want to have.

Amber Burton

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