2012 National Study of Employers Reveals Increased Workplace Flexibility

More employees can decide when and where to do their work; fewer are offered career breaks

By Stephen Miller, CEBS April 30, 2012

The Families and Work Institute's (FWI) 2012 National Study of Employers (NSE), released on April 30, 2012, found that U.S. employers are providing their employees with more options to choose the times and places in which they work but fewer alternatives to full-time work.​

“Organizations are realizing the value in giving employees more autonomy to produce their best work—increased productivity and heightened employee engagement,” said Lisa Horn, senior advisor-government relations at the Society for Human Resource Management. “At the same time, organizations still struggling in a recovering economy are dependent on their workforce and less able to provide employees extended time away from work,” she noted.

The NSE, which provides insights into the practices and policies of U.S. employers addressing changing workforce needs, was previously conducted in 1998, 2005 and 2008. The nationwide sample of 1,126 employers includes organizations with 50 or more workers. Overall, 53 percent of employers were small organizations (50 to 99 employees nationwide) while 9 percent were large organizations (1,000 or more employees nationwide).

The 2012 NSE report was released in conjunction with the SHRM 2012 Talent Management Conference & Exposition, held April 30-May 2 near Washington, D.C.

Flexible Work Options

Flexibility that enhances an employee's ability to decide when and where to accomplish work tasks is on the increase, the 2012 NSE revealed. These flexible work options include:

  • Flex time (offered by 77 percent of workplaces, up from 66 percent in 2005).
  • Flex place/telecommuting (63 percent, up from 34 percent).
  • Choices in managing time (93 percent, up from 78 percent).
  • Daily time off when important needs arise (87 percent, up from 77 percent).

However, employers—perhaps responding to the challenges of the recession and tepid recovery—have limited flexibility around reducing the number of hours worked. For example, the 2012 NSE showed a falloff among employers providing employees with the options of:

  • Moving from part-time to full-time status and back again (41 percent, down from 54 percent).
  • Taking career breaks for reasons including personal and family responsibilities (52 percent, down from 73 percent).

In addition, the maximum length of caregiving leaves offered to new fathers following childbirth, new adoptive parents and employees caring for seriously ill family members have declined since 2005.

FMLA Compliance Remains Static

A large majority of employers in the 2012 NSE are required to comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The law requires organizations with 50 or more employees to provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid, job-guaranteed leave for childbirth, adoption, foster care placement, serious personal medical condition and care of a child or spouse with a serious medical condition. It covers employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours during the preceding year.

The 2012 NSE found that 26 percent of employers appear to be out of compliance with the FMLA, a percentage that has not changed from 2005. Among large employers with more than 1,000 employees, about 21 percent were not in compliance.

Dependent and Elder Care

More employers are offering dependent care assistance plans (DCAPs) in 2012 to help employees pay for child care with pretax dollars, the 2012 NSE found. However, fewer employers are providing back-up care, emergency care or sick care options.

On the other hand, more employers provided access to information about services for elderly family members (41 percent, up from 29 percent in 2005). Moreover, increases were noted in employers that provide DCAPs for elder care and access to respite care, perhaps in response to the aging workforce.

Employee Assistance and Wellness Programs

Larger percentages of employers are providing employee assistance programs (EAPs) in 2012 to help employees deal with problems and pressures (74 percent, up from 46 percent in 2005). There has also been an increase in wellness programs, with 63 percent providing these in 2012 compared with 47 percent in 2005. In addition, more employers are providing women with private space for breastfeeding (79 percent, up from 71 percent in 2005).

Some More than Others

When it comes to workplace flexibility, some employers offer a great deal more than others, the NSE found. Not-for-profit and large organizations were most likely to be moderately to highly flexible, as were employers with:

  • More women in their workforce.
  • Fewer union members.
  • Fewer hourly employees.
  • More part-timers.
  • More women and racial or ethnic minorities in senior positions.

The NSE 2012 survey report concluded, "Employers with more diverse leadership at the top and employers that are nonprofits turn out to provide the best support for making work 'work' for both the employer and the employees."

"Millennials expect to work more flexibly, but so do older employees as they move toward retirement, and so do the 42 percent who had elder care responsibilities in the past five years," saidFWI President Ellen Galinsky. "At one time or another, we will all need some flexibility."

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

Related Articles:

SHRM Survey: Employers Tailor Work Flex for Workers’ NeedsSHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012

The Business Case for Flex, HR Magazine, April 2012

Study Highlights Best Practices in Workplace Elder Care Programs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012

Flexible Work Arrangements: A Compliance Checklist, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, February 2012

Tools and Training Prepare Managers for Workplace Flexibility, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, January 2012

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Benefits Discipline

SHRM Online Workplace Flexibility Resource Page

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