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HR: Flexible work schedules work

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Flexibility on when and where work takes place makes good business sense for an organization, according to a survey of human resources professionals.

“Employers are realizing that allowing employees to work flexible schedules and handle some of their personal needs at work can improve both employee satisfaction and bottom-line results,” said Anne Ruddy, president of WorldatWork, which conducted the survey along with the Regional Research Institute for Human Services at Portland State University and the Alliance for Work Life Progress.

The Work-Life Flexibility and Dependent Care Survey found that there were strong business reasons for allowing employees to have a flexible schedule (defined as having choices about the time and/or location that work is conducted), most notably that such flexibility improved employee retention; increased employee commitment, productivity and job satisfaction; and decreased absenteeism.

The study found that the factors most important to employers when considering a flexible work request were impact on coverage, the ability of the employee to complete their duties and the impact on customers.

Eileen Brennan, associate dean at PSU’s Graduate School of Social Work, predicted that with the workforce growing older and the attendant need to deal with illness and family issues, work fl exibility will become so crucial that it will determine where people choose to work.

The study noted that while employers appreciate the boost in productivity and morale and workers reap the benefits of structuring work around their lives, it goes against the traditional work culture, which in the United States has meant long hours and face time at the office. The study found that flexible work requests due to medical, child care or other urgent personal matters are likely to be approved, “perhaps because a ‘good enough reason’ is required to trump the traditional presumption about when, where and how we work.”

Parents whose children experience behavioral difficulties at school might find their employers somewhat ambivalent about granting flex time, according to the survey. And employers were least likely to grant fl exible schedules for those training for a marathon or for a worker to care for a sick animal.

“There is a growing expectation that you can have work and family,” said Julie Rosenzweig, PSU associate professor of social work. She added that the aging baby boomers will redefi ne the need for flexibility beyond just dealing with medical and family issues.

Brennan, who advocates for paid family leave, emphasized that formal fl ex policies are still needed, referring to the survey results that determined the most common way for workers to ask for a fl ex arrangement is to informally contact an immediate supervisor. Also, one in three participants said that their work culture does not encourage employees to work flex schedules.

The good news found by the survey was that 56% of the companies surveyed allowed employees to deal with personal issues on company time, indicating an increasing accommodation of work-life balance issues.

WorldatWork is a not-for-profi t association focused on human resources disciplines; the Alliance for Work-Life Progress is a not-for-profi t association for work-life professionals. The survey respondents were from a mix of organizations and industries. — Robin Doussard


From the perspective of your organizational leadership, how strong are the following business reasons for allowing employees to have flexible work schedules? (Percentages of respondents who answered “strong” or “very strong.”)

Improves job satisfaction: 77%

Improves morale: 77%

Improves work-life balance: 73%

Improves quality of life: 73%

Improves retention: 72%

Improves commitment: 72%

Source: Work-Life Flexibility and Dependent Care Survey



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