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Flexible Work Critical to Retention, Survey Finds

Flexible work policies must be well-crafted to be effective

A businessman using a laptop at an outdoor cafe.

​Nearly a third of workers have sought out a new job because their current workplace didn't offer flexible work opportunities, such as remote work or flexible scheduling, according to new research.

In addition to that figure, FlexJobs, a Boulder, Colo.-based jobs site for flexible work, said 16 percent of the 7,300 workers who responded to its annual survey said they are currently searching for a new job because of flexibility issues. Eighty percent (up from 75 percent in 2018) said that they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.

The survey found that 52 percent of respondents have tried to negotiate flexible work arrangements with their companies. More than 25 percent said they would take a 10 percent to 20 percent pay cut in exchange for a flexible work arrangement.

"In a tight labor market, companies cannot afford to ignore the value employees place on having flexible work options, but leaders also can't dismiss the very real bottom-line impact offering flexibility has on their employees' productivity and retention rates," said Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs. "The flexible job market is currently very robust, so flexible-job seekers are also feeling empowered to seek jobs that are more compatible with their life."

About two-thirds of the workers said they are more productive working outside of a traditional office environment, citing fewer distractions and interruptions, reduced stress from not commuting, and minimal dealings with office politics as their main reasons.

The survey found that flexible-job seekers say work/life balance and salary are the top two factors when evaluating job prospects. Since 2013, work/life balance (75 percent), spending more time with family (45 percent), saving time (42 percent), and limiting stress from commuting (41 percent) have been the top four reported reasons people seek flexible work.

A majority—78 percent—said that flexible work would allow them to live a healthier life, and 86 percent said they would be less stressed.

"Flexible work arrangements help people do their jobs by reducing various forms of stress, whether it's commuting stress or balancing family obligations," said Chai Feldblum, a partner and director of workplace culture consulting at law firm Morgan Lewis in Washington, D.C. She is a former commissioner on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and co-director of the Workplace Flexibility 2010 public-policy initiative at Georgetown Law School.

Working remotely full-time is the flexible work option of choice among respondents (76 percent), followed by flexible scheduling (72 percent), part-time scheduling (46 percent) and working remotely part-time (43 percent).

"If the point is to have flexibility to deal with something that may arise during the workday, then it makes sense that full-time remote work is the most preferable option," Feldblum said. "But a smart and strategic employer would include the requirement that people do come in on specific occasions."

[SHRM members-only policy template: Flexible Schedules: Alternative Work Schedule Policy and Procedure]

Takeaway for Employers

The survey results show that flexible work options are not simply a perk for workers. Employers can realize big benefits when they incorporate work flexibility into the company's strategy and operations—if the flexible arrangements are well-crafted.

"We recognize the workplace has evolved, and digital transformation is resulting in the rise of remote teams," said Kristen Roby Dimlow, corporate vice president of HR at Microsoft.

"Tomorrow's office is everything from the corner coffee shop to a basement bedroom to an airplane 30,000 feet above the earth. We understand that a fluid and flexible work environment is the way of the future, and we're always looking for ways to invest in our people and empower our employees through technology tools that enable collaboration, communication and connection."

But while flexible work allows many employees to do their jobs better, it's not feasible for everyone. "It's not true to say that flexible work is perfect for everyone and that flexible work arrangements by themselves will result in happier, more-productive employees," Feldblum said. "It's up to employers to put [flexible work policies] in place in a very thoughtful and strategic manner."

She offered the following tips for organizations considering flexible work options:

  • Note the positive effects of offering flexible work arrangements. "Do not presume that because you haven't offered them in the past, they won't work for you; they might. If some managers assert that it won't work, take that as the start of the discussion, not the end."
  • Conduct a thorough assessment of all the jobs in your workplace to figure out which ones are feasible for flexible work.
  • Develop performance outcome metrics for the entire workforce. "Use these to hold people accountable for not meeting expectations, keeping in mind that you don't want to only apply stricter expectations to people working in a flexible work arrangement. Employees should know that they are going to be held to the same metrics as everyone else doing the work, so they have the incentive to make the arrangement work well."
  • Train managers on how to work with remote employees and other flexible workers.


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