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Study: Flexible Schedules Reduce Conflict, Lower Turnover

A “results-only work environment" (ROWE) lets employees set their own schedules

A workplace environment that allows employees to change when and where they work, based on their needs and job responsibilities, relieves work/life conflict and reduces turnover, new research from the University of Minnesota finds.

Led by sociology professors Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen, the research was published in the February 2011 issue of the journal Social Problems ("Does Enhancing Work-Time Control and Flexibility Reduce Turnover? A Naturally Occurring Experiment") and in the April 2011 American Sociological Review.

Moen and Kelly based their findings on data from surveys of more than 600 employees and company records from Minnesota-based Best Buy before and after the implementation of a so-called “results-only work environment” (ROWE). Best Buy introduced the ROWE initiative at its Richfield, Minn., headquarters in 2005.

In a University of Minnesota video interview, professors Moen and Kelly discuss their research.

Flexibility Initiative

The Best Buy ROWE program:

  • Redirected the focus of employees and managers toward measurable results and away from a set work schedule and location.
  • Allowed employees to make routine changes as to when and where they worked without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one.

“Previous research has not been able to assess whether workplace policies or initiatives succeed in reducing work-family conflict or increasing work-family fit,” Kelly said. “With these changes in the workplace, employees gained control over the time and timing of their work in ways that benefited them and, by extension, their families and communities.”

“The study points to the importance of schedule control for understanding job quality and for management policies and practices,” Moen added. “It is feasible to broaden [employees'] access to schedule control and thereby relieve work-family conflicts and improve work-family fit for more workers.”

Positive Results

The research demonstrated positive impact of the ROWE initiative for the company. ROWE reduced turnover by 45 percent—after controlling for multiple factors like job level, organizational tenure, job satisfaction, income adequacy, job security and other turnover intentions.

Only 6 percent of ROWE participants left the company during the eight-month study period, while 11 percent of the comparison group left. ROWE reduced turnover intentions among those remaining with the corporation.

“By showing that a policy initiative like ROWE can reduce turnover, this research moves the ‘opting out’ argument—whether one chooses family over work—from a private issue to an issue of how employers can change the workplace to better meet the needs of employees,” Moen said.

Additional Findings

Among other study highlights:

  • ROWE reduced turnover for all types of employees. Moen and Kelly found no differences in the ROWE turnover effects by employees’ gender, life stage, organizational tenure, job satisfaction, income adequacy or perceived job security. This finding is important, they said, because employers sometimes assume that these initiatives will primarily benefit parents or women.
    People with high levels of work-family pressures do tend to “opt out” of the workforce; however ROWE reduced the “opting out” of men and women.
  • ROWE reduced work-family conflict and spillover and improved work-family fit and time adequacy.
  • ROWE increased employees’ schedule control. This is important because some flexibility policies and programs do not increase employees’ control over the time and timing of their work because managers still determine who can use them.
  • ROWE increased schedule control for mothers, for women without children at home and for men without children at home. Fathers with children at home benefited less than other groups, probably because they had the highest schedule control to begin with.
  • ROWE increased schedule control for employees regardless of their work demands. Employees’ increased schedule control, in turn, resulted in less work-family conflict and better work-family fit among employees with the highest work demands and those with lower work demands.

The research was funded as part of the Work, Family & Health Network, a collaboration of eight research organizations studying changes in the work environment that can improve the health of workers and their families while benefiting organizations. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched the network in 2005.

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

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