Benefits & Work-Life Focus

Why Flex Programs Are Necessary for the Future of Work

By Stephen Sanicola, WorldatWork  |  October 2016

Flexible work programs have grown from a feel-good trend to a bottom-line business necessity for many organizations. In fact, nearly half of Millennials, a rapidly growing percentage of the workforce, rate workplace flexibility as a higher priority than pay, according to surveys and studies on the future of work.

A 2015 workplace study by showed that 75% of responding employees put workplace flexibility as the top noncompensation benefit, indicating flexibility is necessary to attract and retain talent. The research and advisory group also surveyed employers that use flex programs. Of those respondents, 87% reported improved employee satisfaction. Other results showed improvements in productivity and employee retention.

And while more employers are offering more workplace flexibility programs, embracing the practice can be a slow process. WorldatWork's latest "Trends in Workplace Flexibility" study shows that more than 80% of responding organizations have one or more forms of flexible work with 98% planning to increase or maintain their programs.

"Change is hard," said Emma Plumb, director of 1 Million for Work Flexibility. "When people are used to doing things a certain way, it can be very difficult to embrace something new. But the more people understand the myriad benefits of flexibility, not only for their colleagues, their staff and their employers, but also for themselves, the easier it will be to make that shift."

Flexible work programs include, but are not limited to:

  • Telework
  • Flex time
  • Part-time work
  • Phased return from leave
  • Phased retirement
  • Job share.

Flexible work schedules make it easier for employees to achieve a sense of balance between work and life, advocates say.

"The biggest reason is that life is unpredictable and employees have lives outside of work," said Rose Stanley, CCP, CBP, WLCP, CEBS, a senior practice leader at WorldatWork. "Many times we have to adjust our schedules for a variety of reasons and when you have an organization that allows that flexibility, it makes it a lot easier for us to accomplish what we have to do outside of work. That allows us to concentrate more when we are at work."

Plumb echoed that sentiment. "Businesses benefit from giving their employees flexibility because their workers are healthier, happier, more loyal and more productive." 

Stanley notes that one main concern for supervisors is the risk of abusing flexible work programs. However, the 2015 WorldatWork study showed a dramatic improvement in how managers view the productivity of employees using the most universal flexibility program — teleworking.

More than half of responding managers said teleworking employees are as productive (48%) or more productive (8%) than in-office employees. In the previous survey in 2013, only 36% said teleworkers were as productive.

Michael Fenlon, a global and U.S. talent leader at PwC, emphasized at WorldatWork's 2015 "Rethinking the Workweek" event in Washington, D.C., that flex work programs require multilevels of support — corporate leadership, team collaboration and personal accountability — to work to everyone's advantage.

Following are three tips for success:

  • Communicate. Communications, which are vital in any work environment, are even more critical when flexible work programs are in play. Managers can use such tools as email, instant messaging and virtual staff meetings to help ensure flex workers are engaged and informed about work and organizational happenings.
  • Create a detailed, formal written policy before initiating a program, says Incorporate input from employees during planning. Once the program is up and running, assess its failures and successes to help refine it to best fit the specific needs of your organization and employees.
  • Be flexible with your work flex programs because what works for one company may not work for another, even one in the same industry, Stanley says. Establishing successful flex programs is an evolutionary process.

"More people are realizing that best practices does not equal seeing what they do next door and doing the same thing," Stanley says. "It's learning from what they are doing and figuring out how that can work for your company."

About the Author

Stephen Sanicola, was the summer WorldatWork editorial intern in Scottsdale, Ariz. Questions can be addressed to Jean Christofferson, WorldatWork's managing editor.  

Read the October edition of Benefits & Work-Life Focus.

Contents © 2016 WorldatWork. No part of this article may be reproduced, excerpted or redistributed in any form without express written permission from WorldatWork.

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