Report: Employee Partnership Lacking in Creating Flex Arrangements

By Kathy Gurchiek Aug 4, 2009

The success of flexible work arrangements (FWAs) hinges on a partnership between management and employees, but only 50 percentof companies surveyed in a new report involve non-management workers in the design of their FWAs, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

SHRM’s report, Workplace Flexibility in the 21st Century: Meeting the Needs of the Changing Workforce, released in August 2009, is based on a survey conducted in November 2008 of 511 SHRM members in the U.S.

Eighty-five percent of HR professionals think telecommuting will be more common in the next five years and that it could help organizations recruit and retain key employees, according to the study. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed indicated an increase in employee requests for FWAs compared to previous years.


“Companies need to actively create solutions to make telecommuting options available to employees,” said Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s survey program. “While telecommuting, local or long distance, might not be feasible for all jobs or industries, there are many jobs that are perfectly suitable for this type of flexible work arrangement. If companies start thinking about these options now, they’ll be viewed as ahead of the game, given that over the next few years this type of FWA will be viewed as more common.”

FWAs take a variety of forms—the report features a glossary of 13 terms that include telecommuting from a satellite location or home, compressed work weeks and shift flexibility.

Part-time schedules, though, are the most prevalent form of FWAs, and most typically are found at large organizations, according to the findings.

The report examines FWAs that employers typically offer, challenges associated with them and factors that make FWAs successful. U.S. employers are not required to offer FWAs, but formal FWAs have a positive impact on employers and employees, including as a retention tool and promoting higher job satisfaction and engagement, the report found. Forty-two percent of HR professionals reported that the absenteeism rate of telecommuters dropped.


The report promotes the concept of including non-management employees, who will be affected directly by new programs, in the early design stages of an organization’s FWAs. SHRM Employee Relations Special Expertise Panel member Chana Anderson, SPHR, who advocates the inclusion of non-management employees in FWA design, is quoted in the report.

“HR professionals are best positioned to set the tone of this partnership,” Anderson said, “by approaching the design of FWAs as a strategic business tool for their organization rather than just a perk for the employees.”

The three most common obstacles HR professionals cited to using FWAs in their organization are the suitability for certain work (41 percent); business needs that don’t allow for FWAs (29 percent); and inconsistent policy or practice implementing FWAs (27 percent).

HR professionals can help their organizations overcome some of these issues, the report suggests, by:

·Understanding the diverse needs of employees and the organization’s demographics—for example, are there more older workers, who might have elder care responsibilities, than Generation Y workers.

·Create FWAs that are relevant to employee and organizational needs. Is the organization, for example, losing top employees who are new mothers?

·Communicate FWA programs and policies across the organization and in a variety of forms.

·Train line managers and supervisors in the goals and expectations of the FWA program; 77 percent of HR professionals said that this buy-in is important to success.

·Review and update the programs and policies as the needs of the organization and its employees change.Also, measure the success of the organization’s FWAs; only 13 percent of those surveyed that had formal FWAs measure their success.

·Make sure that FWAs comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at


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