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Workplace Flexibility Valued by Low-Wage Workers
Health care industry is ahead of the flexibility curve

By Stephen Miller  2/23/2011
 

Low-wage workers have less access to many types of workplace flexibility arrangements than higher-wage employees, but low- and higher-wage earners are equally pressed for time in their personal lives and place equal value on having a flexible workplace, according to a study by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute (FWI).

The report, Workplace Flexibility and Low-Wage Employees, released in February 2011, analyzed data from FWI's National Study of the Changing Workforce. Low-wage employees were defined as those earning less than $12.82 an hour—a little more than one-third of the U.S. workforce.

The study found a positive correlation between workplace flexibility and six employee outcomes:

Overall job satisfaction.

Degree of engagement with job.

Degree to which home life interferes with job performance.

Physical health status.

Mental health status.

Likelihood of remaining with current employer.

The prevalence of each of these outcomes was higher—and the degree to which home life interfered with work was lower—for both low-wage and for higher-wage earners when their employers offer more workplace flexibility.

Low-wage earners tend to be less satisfied with their jobs and less likely to plan to remain with their current employers, and they are likely to have poorer physical and mental health than higher-wage employees. However, having greater flexibility on the job reduces these differences between low-wage and higher-wage employees substantially, the study found.

"While there has been an understandable business focus on providing good workplaces for top and pipeline talent, Families and Work Institute’s research shows that employers get, in many instances, more of an impact if they also provide this kind of good workplace to their entry-level and hourly employees too," said FWI President Ellen Galinsky. "In fact, our National Study of the Changing Workforce finds that while low-wage and -income employees have access to fewer flexibility options, those with more flexible workplaces were more satisfied with their jobs, and more committed to and engaged in their jobs."

With a changing economic landscape directing more job growth toward low-wage positions, "increasing the productivity and retention of entry-level and hourly employees will be vital for employers and our economy," she added.

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'Increasing the productivity and retention of
entry-level and hourly employees
will be vital for employers.
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Use of Available Workplace Flexibility

The study determined that:

Although most employees use all of the paid vacation days they accrue, low-wage employees use fewer accrued days (90 percent) than higher-wage employees (97 percent). On average, low-wage employees use 10.4 vacation days, and higher-wage employees use 13.6 vacation days.

Among employees who receive paid time off for personal illness, higher-wage employees are more likely to feel that the amount of time they receive is sufficient (92 percent) compared with low-wage employees (83 percent)

Among employees allowed to choose their starting and quitting times within some range of hours, a large majority of low-wage (80 percent) and higher-wage employees (79 percent) do so.

Among those allowed to work a compressed workweek sometimes, 41 percent of low-wage employees and 49 percent of higher-wage employees choose to do so—not a statistically significant difference.

Among those allowed to change starting and quitting times on short notice, higher-wage employees do so somewhat more frequently than low-wage employees.

Among those allowed to work some of their regular paid work hours at home, 42 percent of low-wage employees sometimes do this, and 64 percent of higher-wage employees do so.

Positive Outcomes

"Low-wage and higher-wage employees are equally pressed for time in their personal lives and place equal value on having a flexible workplace," the study concluded. "For low-wage employees who are just as likely to have responsibilities for child and elder care as higher-wage employees, but who have fewer financial resources to meet these responsibilities and are less likely to have partners who can share family work, having flexibility on the job may be even more important."

Health Care Industry Sets an Example

Another new report from the Families and Work Institute, Workplace Flexibility in the Health Services Industry, finds that the health services industry is clearly ahead of the curve. Employers in health services are far more likely than employers in other industries to see flexibility as a business tool rather than a favor or a perk. In addition, they are more likely than employers in other industries to use workplace flexibility to attract highly skilled workers, and they provide much more flexibility than other employers.

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

Related Article: 

Employers Take Informal Approach to Workplace Flexibility, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, February 2011

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