Workplace Flexibility Necessary for Business, Speaker Says

By Aliah D. Wright Mar 16, 2016
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More companies are beginning to realize the business benefits of allowing employees more flexibility when it comes to work, Maryland workplace attorney and independent HR consultant Christine V. Walters, JD, SHRM-SCP, told attendees March 15 at a session at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM's) Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Workplace flexibility impacts recruitment, retention, engagement and productivity, said Walters, who is the author of From Hello to Goodbye: Proactive Tips for Maintaining Positive Employee Relations (SHRM, 2011).

She said that according to the 2014 Council of Economic Advisers’ Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility report, 79 percent of those surveyed said that the overall office culture was most important to them; 60 percent said paid time off was also very important and 55 percent said flexibility to balance life and work issues was also very important.

“But only 26 percent said they were satisfied with their flexibility options,” she said.

“As consumers, we seek flexibility in all retail services and other services. [Flexibility] is good for us as consumers. That’s why we think it’s important for our employees,” she said.

Many issues impact workplace flexibility. Walters said HR must understand the current trends in workplace flexibility initiatives as well as what’s on the legislative agenda that could ease or block work flex.

For example, the U.S. Department of Labor—in addition to considering changes to the rule governing which workers are eligible for overtime pay—anticipates issuing a separate guidance on how and when employees use electronic devices for work.

HR professionals also must comply with new workplace leave laws, such as paid-sick-leave laws.

“We have five states that have enacted paid sick leave laws and we have a whole lot of local jurisdictions that are doing and have done the same,” Walters said. They are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont.

She encouraged HR professionals who are considering implementing workplace flexibility options such as telecommuting and flexible scheduling to consider  using the When Work Works Workflex Employee Toolkit to convince skeptical executives about the benefits of a flexible workplace. When Work Works is a joint project of SHRM and the Families and Work Institute.

HR is often in a position to make a real difference within an organization and, as a profession, “we’re doing a whole lot of neat stuff that we’re not otherwise required to do,” she said.

That includes offering employees programs such as:

  • Flex time where employees work varied schedules.
  • Flexible time off with some or unlimited paid or unpaid leave.
  • Leave donation.
  • Telecommuting.
  • The use of collaborative technologies.

Walters said that most companies are offering flexible leave for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Vacation.
  • Personal time off.
  • Sick leave or for medical reasons.
  • Holidays.
  • Parental and family leave.
  • Voting.
  • School activities.
  • Religious observances.

“Today’s workplace is completely different from the way it was 20 years ago,” Walters said. Workplace flexibility is “about business,” she added. “There’s opportunity to increase our recruitment and increase our retention, and these flexibility issues are important to today’s workplace."

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM Online.

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