Why Your Company Should Offer a Flexible Work Environment

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Whether you run a conglomerate or a small business one thing is for sure, employees want a flexible work environment that enables them to better manage their work and personal life.

Consider this: According to a national study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 87% of employees said flexibility in their next job was either important or very important. Meanwhile Spherion, the recruiting and staffing company, found that 93% of workers rate an employer who helps employees meets their family obligations as more attractive than one that doesn’t.

“Four out of five employees are looking for flexibility,” says Lisa Horn, co-leader of the Society for Human Resource Management’s workplace flexibility initiative. “That’s an opportunity in terms of the talent management strategy for an employer.”

The benefits of offering a flexible work environment go beyond simply making employees happy. According to Sandy Mazur, Spherion division president, employees at a company that have formal work/life programs in place tend to be more satisfied in their job, more productive and are happy with their relationships with their supervisors. What’s more, Horn says employees in flexible work environments tend to be healthier than their counter parts that may not have time to exercise or make healthy eating choices. It also offers company a business continuity strategy if employees are equipped and encouraged to work at home in the event of a disaster like last year’s super storm Hurricane Sandy. “There’s benefits for both employers and employees which is why we are seeing more companies adopt flexible work arrangements,” says Horn.

Flexible work environments can mean different things to different companies. For instance offering the ability to work remotely may be the cornerstone of one company’s program while another company may give employees Friday’s off in the summer or allow them to make their own hours granted they get the work done. According to Spherion’s Emerging Workforce Study, 52% of employers said they offer flex time, while 37% give employees the ability to telecommute and 37% offer sabbaticals. One-quarter offer paid time off for community service and 17% offer on-site daycare.

Even though it’s a growing trend and one employees are asking for, companies have to be careful when creating a flexible work environment. Not every department is going to be able to work from home or make their own hours and it could breed jealousy if they see other employees enjoying those benefits and they aren’t getting any flexibility at all. “It can be nearly impossible for some departments or teams at a company to provide a flexible schedule,” says Mazur. “That doesn’t mean a company should opt out of creating a flexible work environment or only implement it for certain departments. It needs to be formal, consistent and fair for everyone.”

Before a company implements a flexible work environment program, Horn says it first has to make a business case for doing it. If human resources believe it will improve employee engagement, increase productivity and help in the company’s retention strategy then that has to be sold to the higher ups. “You need to build a business case to demonstrate to the leadership team why it’s a good strategy to pursue,” says Horn. “What business problems are you trying to improve upon or solve?” For example the impetus to offering a flexible work environment could be to decrease turnover or to cut costs from physical office locations.

Once the business case has been established the company can go about creating a flexible work environment that works with their unique staff. Mazur says it’s a good idea to talk to employees ahead of time to get a sense of what they want out of a flexible work environment.  Based on that feedback the human resources department can gauge what is feasible to implement and what is not realistic.

“Many companies offer programs such as job sharing, split shifts and flex time, but it’s all about what works best for the company and its employees,” says Mazur. “A company should provide work/life balance options for departments so that individual teams can decide what they want to do. However, the programs have to be consistent because you don’t want to create an environment of unfairness. When people think that a program is unfairly administered, that’s when it becomes an issue for the company.”

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Author: Donna Fuscaldo

Freelance journalist. @donnabail

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