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Misperceptions Hinder Flexibility, FWI-SHRM Report Shows 
Research finds ties between workplace flexibility and positive business results 

11/4/2011  By Stephen Miller, CEBS 
 
 

Workplace flexibility programs benefit employers of all sizes and industries, resulting in increased employee job satisfaction, lower turnover and lower insurance costs, according to a new report, Workplace Flexibility in the United States: A Status Report.

However, common but unsupported assumptions are preventing greater adoption and use of flexible practices, according to the report, released at the new Work-Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond conference held Nov. 8-10, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The conference is presented by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Families and Work Institute (FWI).

Published by the When Work Works initiative of FWI and SHRM, the report debunks myths about workplace flexibility and documents the connection among flexible workplaces and business results that matter to employers.

Common Misperceptions

The report draws on two nationally representative studies by FWI—the National Study of the Changing Workforce and the National Study of Employers—to identify misconceptions and emerging trends. Among the assumptions about workplace flexibility that the report found to be misguided:

The belief that small employers are less flexible than large employers because of cost. While 38 percent of large employers (those with 500 or more employees) said the costs of flexibility or limited funds was an obstacle to flexibility, less than 32 percent of small organizations said the same thing, FWI’s data show.

The belief that if workplace flexibility is available, employees will misuse it. “The assumption is that if you give employees an inch, they take a mile. But that’s not the case,” said Ellen Galinsky, FWI’s president and co-author of the report. “Overall, 11 percent of employees with access to daily schedule flexibility use it several times a month or more, 70 percent use it once a month or less, and the remaining 19 percent never use it.”

The belief that offering flexibility to low-wage employees isn’t worth the investment. Workplace flexibility often has been touted as a way to recruit and retain highly talented and difficult-to-replace staff. But it has been seen less often as a worthwhile investment in low-wage employees. The data show that low-wage employees with low flexibility are more likely to be less satisfied and less engaged with their jobs than higher-wage employees with similar levels of flexibility. When offered at least moderate workplace flexibility, low- and higher-wage employees show similar levels of job satisfaction and job engagement.

“As the economy, and the employers and employees that comprise it, move forward through a time of ever greater work and home life demands, workplace flexibility becomes more than a favor or benefit for employees,” the report concludes. “It becomes a strategic necessity to keep employees and employers working and living well.”

The report was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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