The landscape at work has changed drastically over the last several decades. According to the United States Department of Labor, women constituted 47% of the workforce in 2012, up from 38% in 1980. Employees over 55 years old have grown from 12% of the workforce in 1992 to 21% in 2012, and are projected to make up 26% of the workforce by 2022.
Additionally, a telephone survey commissioned by Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc. in December 2013 found that 31% of respondents reported they do most of their work away from their employer’s location, including home, coffee shops, and business centers.
With this changing workforce has come the need for changing workplace policies. At a time when many organizations are looking for non-monetary benefits and perks to attract and retain employees, flexible work arrangements should be part of the solution, benefitting employees as well as their employing organizations.
Defining Flexible Work Arrangements
This may leave you wondering, “What are flexible work arrangements?” While telecommuting may be first thing that comes to mind, there are several categories of flexible work arrangement that have emerged over time:
1. Flexible location. This describes where work is done. Rather than working from a standard office, this can include work from home, a satellite office, a coworking space, a client site, a coffee shop, or while traveling. A flexible location arrangement is a great tool for retaining workers who do not live near the employer’s office or cannot make it into the office on a regular basis.
This benefits remote workers who don’t live near the office, must move away from the office, or can only commute to the office a few days a week. For instance, an employee might live in rural Minnesota but work for an organization based in Chicago, or an employee may need to move away from the DC-based office to be near family in Houston.
2. Flexible schedule. This describes when work is done. It can include compressed workweeks (i.e., four ten-hours work days, instead of five eight-hour workdays), alternative schedules (e.g., 10am to 7pm or 7am to 3pm during the workweek), or the ability to shift work with arrangements made to fit the employee’s needs.
Flexible schedules work well for those who have other commitments that prevent them from working a standard workday. For example, a parent may work while his/her child is at school and finish the workday after their child goes to sleep. Another employee might live on the west coast and work for a company on the east coast, and start his/her workday at 7am so he has more overlap with his coworkers on the east coast. Another employee may start his workday at 11am so he can use the morning to train for his upcoming Iron Man Competition.
3. Flexible hours. This describes the amount of hours worked, and can include part time work, job shares, and other alternatives to the 40-hour workweek. This type of flexibility accommodates individuals who need to work less than full time, or at times other than the “standard” 9 to 5.
For example, an employee may be of retirement age, but still want or need to work, so they may choose to work in a part time capacity. An employee may wish to work on weekends, or take night shifts, so they can be available to take care of his or her family during the week, while another may work part time during the day to make ends meet while they pursue their own passions.
An individual employee may take advantage of one or more of the types of flexibility, either simultaneously (e.g., working part time from home) or at different times of the week (e.g., work part time with one work from home day a week,).
The Benefits of Flexible Work Arrangements
While millennial’s workplace expectations have been discussed as a driving force behind increasing flexibility in the workplace, all generations of employees can benefit from increasing availability of flexible work arrangements.
Such arrangements can afford employees the time and ability to meet the needs of their lives outside of the office, something that may be more valuable to them than monetary benefits or office perks. Working caregivers, such as parents or those responsible for aging parents, can benefit greatly from flexible work arrangements. From picking children up from school to taking a parent or spouse to an appointment, flexible work arrangements enable individuals to balance the demands of their personal lives while still fulfilling their duties as an employee.
Organizations stand to benefit from flexible work arrangements, too. And many of these benefits are discussed by SHRM at length.
Organization may be able to retain employees that they would otherwise have to let go. For example, an employee who becomes a primary care giver can utilize an alternative work schedule or reduced hours, and an employee who must move for his or her spouse’s job can work remotely.
Research also demonstrates that work arrangement flexibility can lead employees to have higher levels of job satisfaction, engagement, and performance through increased control over when and where work gets done. It allows employees to make decisions to better fit their work and work styles.
Flexible work arrangements can also result in less absenteeism and fewer accidents because employees have more flexibility to take care of responsibilities outside of work, work from home when sick (which has the added benefit of not getting others sick), and choosing to work when they are most able to do so safely and productively.
Flexible work arrangements can be an important part of creating a dynamic and diverse workplace. They can help your organization and your employees manage the competing demands of daily life. How have you integrated flexible work arrangements into your benefits package?