Achieving Work-Life Balance: Flexible Work Options Benefit Both Employees and Employers


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“Studies show the benefits of flexible work arrangements [such as work-at-home options] can include:

  • Improved worker productivity and efficiency
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Better employee morale
  • Improved employee engagement
  • Less absenteeism
  • Less turnover which results in less money spent on hiring, training new employees
  • Increased balance between work and family/personal life
  • Costs savings related to facilities management: fewer buildings, lower utility bills, fewer employee parking spaces
  • Fuel savings, reduced emissions, and a smaller carbon footprint for commuters.”

~ Susan Weise, University of Minnesota, 2009

In March 2010, the Office of the President released a study entitled “WORK-LIFE BALANCE AND THE ECONOMICS OF WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY.” The study highlights the changes in our society over the last 50 years that have created a need for more flexible options in the workplace. Of note:

  • Almost 20% of employed persons today are providing elder care for a family member over the age of 50.
  • More employers are requiring advance skillsets, requiring employees to pursue post-secondary education to meet the demands of their jobs.
  • Women now comprise approximately half of the workers in the United States and there are more dual-income families today than at any time in our history.

Workplace flexibility has received a good deal of attention and support at the federal level due in recent years due to the expressed needs of its workers to balance career and family. Today, the majority of U.S. Government employees have the ability to work from home and all employees can connect into the secure network from any computer in the country.

The work-at-home option has also provided previously unrealized benefits to the country’s largest employer. In the winter of 2009/2010, for example, the federal government’s newly-instituted work-at-home option prevented a complete shutdown during 5 snow days, generating a productivity savings of over $150 million.

Our Changing Society

While more adult family members and more women in particular are part of the workforce, the duty we have to meet the care needs of both children and elderly parents has not changed. The dynamics of the post-millennial family, however, make this an incredibly challenging prospect today:

  • In 1968, 48 percent of households were “traditional”, with a father employed outside the home and a mother who stayed at home to tend to children and elder family members.
  • In 2008, just 20 percent of families fell into the “traditional” category.
  • In 1968, 25 percent of families included two working parents.
  • In 2008, the number of households with dual wage earners jumped up to 48 percent.
  • Over the course of the last 50 years, the number of women in the workforce has grown from 30 percent to 50 percent, creating a significant life shift in the family structure.

The “Super” Syndrome

Although more and more adults have become part of the workforce, the needs of families are relatively unchanged. Parents are still expected to participate in school activities for their children, and family members both young and old need to be taken to the doctor and dentist. As a result, workers feel a strong (sometimes unbearable) pull to be everything to everyone – a super-worker and a super-parent – ultimately causing some to burn out or feel compelled to make the difficult choice between their job and their family.

Having to choose between job and family is not without consequence:

Employees who choose work over family can feel trapped by their careers and the need to bring home an income, which can also generate feelings of tremendous guilt at not being able to be there for their family members.

Workers who choose family over job typically make a conscious decision to pull themselves out of the workforce for one or more years, creating an employment gap which can impact their ability to successfully re-enter the job market at a later point in time.

The examples above may seem like extremes, but families face these decisions every single day. It makes the need to find balance between work and home life all the more essential so that we can meet the demands of our society and ensure higher job satisfaction and retention among our workers.

The Advantage of Flexible Work Options

“… the research shows that employees who work in flexible workplaces are more likely to:

  • Be engaged in their jobs and committed to helping their organizations succeed
  • Plan on staying with their employer
  • Be satisfied with their jobs
  • Exhibit better mental health.”

~ Families and Work Institute, 2008
National Study of the Changing Workforce

Providing flexibility in the workplace is one way of restoring balance for employees while at the same time generating cost savings to organizations. Some of those flexible options include:

  • Work-at-home opportunities, which allow workers to conduct some, most, or all of their job requirements in a home office rather than their company’s workplace. In the 2008 National Study of Employers, twenty-three percent of the employers surveyed reported that working from home was a benefit that was extended to some of their employees, but only 1% of employers surveyed reported that they permit most or all of their employees to work from home on a regular basis.
  • Offering employees some control over when they work (i.e. flexible start, end, and break times, and compressed workweeks). In a May 2004 Current Population Survey, only 28 percent of full-time workers reported that they have some flexibility in their schedule. A 2005 study by the Families and Work Institute reported that 34% of companies allow some of their employees to change starting and quitting times on a daily basis.
  • Providing options in the number of hours an employee works, including job sharing, reduction in hours, and paid and unpaid leaves. In 2007, approximately 29 percent of employers reported that they allow job sharing and 41% permit moving from full-time to part-time to full-time employment again. In part due to the Family and Medical Leave Act, about 82% of workers are able to take unpaid leave for a family event. Paid leave in the form of sick days (47 percent of employers) and maternity leave (56 percent of employers) is also available in some organizations, but the pay rate is usually less than the employee’s normal compensation.

Organizations, the economy, and society as a whole benefit in a number of ways when flexibility and work-life balance are part of the working environment:

  • Flexible options are a valuable way to attract and retain employees. A third of workers view work-life balance as an important factor when assessing a job offer and two-thirds of human resources professionals view flexible options as the number one factor in attracting and retaining employees.
  • Flexible options improve retention and reduce turnover. When employees have work-life balance, they are more likely to stay. Considering that hiring costs can average $2,500 per person and account for 3% or more of total labor costs, flexible options that attract and retain can pay for themselves.
  • Flexible options reduce absenteeism. A 2004 study by Corporate Voices for Working Families reported that concerns about balancing family and work obligations are more likely to lead to increased absenteeism, which typically costs companies $496 to $1,984 per year per worker. One estimate is that adopting flexible scheduling alone could save more than $15 billion a year in domestic absenteeism costs.
  • Flexible options improve employee health. There is more and more empirical evidence linking poor health with lower productivity and declining economic growth. The University of Minnesota, for example, found that offering employees greater control over work time contributed to improved physical and psychological health among its workers.
  • Flexible work options improve productivity. A 2006 report by Bloom, Krestchmer and Van Reenen, which studied 700 companies in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, found that there is a “significant positive relationship between work-life balance practices and total factor productivity.”

“… empirical studies show that distributed work programs can:

  • Increase the employee-per-workstation ratio by 20%
  • Reduce IT and power costs by up to $3,000 per workstation per year
  • Reduce workplace services costs (real estate, furniture, technology) by 40%
  • Increase productivity by an average of 7%
  • Save 5.3% in health care costs
  • Reduce turnover and the costs associated with turnover by as much as 4.8%.”

~ Christine Barber, Knoll Inc., 2007

Certainly, not all companies are able to adopt all flexible workplace practices for every employee. However, there is a case to be made for more organizations taking a deeper look into flexible work options, particularly those that strive to be an employer of choice in the global economy. Based on current research, they can expect to have happier employees, a healthier workforce, better retention, lower absenteeism, and a more robust bottom line. That’s something worth working toward.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Teresa Sinel
Teresa Sinel is the Director of Operations, Analytics and Innovation for VIPdesk, the award-winning pioneer of home-based virtual customer care solutions for global brand leaders committed to enhancing their brand experience. Serving over 40 client programs and 10 million customers, VIPdesk specializes in delivering Concierge Programs, Contact Center Services, and loyalty programs for national brand leaders in the travel, auto, financial services, real estate and retail industries.


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