SHRM Hosts Flexibility Roundtable, Shares Findings

By SHRM Online staff Oct 18, 2010

Eighty-nine percent of HR professionals think flexible work arrangements help retain employees, but business needs and the suitability of offering flexibility in some jobs are among the constraints HR professionals often cite for not offering such arrangements.

Those are among survey findings the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shared Sept. 23, 2010, during an executive roundtable on workplace flexibility in Washington, D.C.

The results from an online survey conducted in November 2008 with 511 HR professionals were the basis for a day-long SHRM roundtable on strategies for expanding and improving workplace flexibility.

The discussion attracted 21 men and women from business, the federal government and organizations that included Corporate Voices for Working Families, the School of HR and Labor Relations at Michigan State University, Workplace Flexibility 2010, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Alliance for Work-Life Progress, the Center for American Progress and the Families and Work Institute.

Attracting, retaining and rewarding the best workers are the biggest challenges facing HR in the next 20 years, said Mark Schmit, SHRM’s director of research, during the presentation.

The SHRM survey found that 91 percent of HR professionals think that a formal flexible work arrangement has a positive impact on morale and 89 percent said it helps retention. But 36 percent cited business needs as a constraint to flexible work arrangements.

Other findings:

  • 91 percent of HR professionals think that implementing formal flexible work arrangements improves employee morale.
  • 58 percent said providing work/life balance is the most effective tactic for attracting, rewarding and retaining top employees.
  • 58 percent said part-time schedules are the most prevalent flexible work arrangement.
  • Organizations with 500 or more employees are more likely than those with 99 or fewer employees to offer part-time schedules as a flexible work arrangement.
  • 59 percent said flexible scheduling—part-time work, compressed schedules, telework and project work—was designed with older workers in mind.
  • 63 percent said the productivity of workers who began telecommuting remained the same; 32 percent said productivity increased.
  • 53 percent said absenteeism remained the same among workers who began telecommuting; 42 percent said it decreased.

Janet Parker, SHRM’s chief global membership officer, noted during the roundtable that providing a flexible work environment requires creative approaches to how the workday is structured and how work is accomplished.

This requires “a paradigm shift on what we teach HR professionals” on how to perform their jobs, she said, so they know how “to work ‘beyond the box.’ ”

There can be confusion in an organization, another participant noted, as to whether flexible work arrangements constitute a program managed by one person or a policy initiative that needs to involve multiple stakeholders to make it viable.

Other suggestions for encouraging flexibility among employers include:

  • Continuing to use high-profile ways to recognize employers who promote flexibility.
  • Encouraging employers to find ways to link flexibility with their year-end accounting so that its dollar value to the employer is recognized.
  • Leveraging business leaders to help set and reach a standard for workplace flexibility.
  • Teaching future business leaders about the value of workplace flexibility and how to manage it.
  • Leveraging societal, organizational and community pressure. That pressure might come from a community’s desire to reduce commuter gridlock, for example, or to cut air pollution.
  • Researching how to address workplace flexibility for hourly and line workers.

The roundtable was the latest in SHRM’s efforts to advance workplace flexibility. SHRM is part of a coalition that is embracing the National Campaign on Workplace Flexibility, which was launched in March 2010 and which urges organizations to sign a pledge to embrace workplace flexibility policies.

In March 2010, SHRM participated in a White House forum on workplace flexibility. In April 2010, SHRM leadership testified in support of proposed legislation that would recognize employers who implement innovative workplace policies. And in May 2010 the organization co-sponsored a panel discussion on the “State of the Workforce in the New Economy” and participated in a panel discussing “The Future of Work-Life Balance and Workplace Flexibility.”


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