Workplace Flexibility Works–For Workers and Employers

Most of us, at some point in our lives, have worked in organizations that are rigid and unyielding. You know the type: You enter by a specific time each and every day to buildings filled with acres of gray carpeting bathed in florescent light. These kinds of work cultures breed mediocrity. They deaden the soul, not to mention productivity and creativity.

And their days are numbered.

Workers Want Flexibility in the Workplace

There are five generations currently in the workplace, and all of them are demanding flexibility. (Surprise, it’s not just Millennials.) Flexibility is one of the top three reasons highly skilled workers cite in choosing an employer—in fact, 83% of the companies on the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work list offer virtual work options.

The reasons employees desire flexibility is as varied as their demographics. From Traditionals, Boomers to Gen X and Millennials, surveys show that flexibility in their work arrangements would help them be more satisfied, and therefore more productive, employees.

Here’s why:

  • 1 in 5 employees are caring for elderly parents
  • Today, men are more involved in the raising of children and want to participate in their activities—as their little league coaches and caregivers
  • Older workers may need extra time to deal with health issues and want to consider a phased retirement
  • Younger workers blend work and life seamlessly with technology
  • 68% of women without children would rather have more free time than make more money

Flexibility is Also Good for Employers

The upside for employers is that flexibility is truly a talent magnet. In many cases it does not cost anything, and in fact, may save organizations’ money.

What is Flexibility?

So what are the different types of flexible work arrangements?

Flexible Work Arrangements Description
Flex time Choose starting and finishing times
Compressed Work Week Work fewer than five days but still the same weekly hours
Telecommuting/Remote Work Working somewhere other than the corporate office
Regular Part time Work less than 40 hours
Job Sharing Share a full time job with another employee
Phased Retirement Older employees remain employed in a different manner and status
Leaves and Sabbatical Authorized periods of time off (usually extended)

While many companies have some flexible work policies, they treat them like perks and not as a consistent strategy—letting some employees work remotely some of the time, and doing little to scale flexibility programs to maximize their benefits or to measure how they affect the business. Given the diversity of today’s workforce, flexibility should not be an accommodation at the margins. It should be the norm.

Of course, one size does not fit all, nor can all organizations adopt a robust, all-encompassing program. Not all jobs and industries can allow for flexible schedules, working remotely or other arrangements. Managers rightly worry about availability, fairness, workloads and performance issues. Employees themselves may fear they’ll be passed over for a promotion if they take advantage of flex options.

But when implemented strategically and thoughtfully, the benefits are real for both the employee and organization, including:

  • Broader talent pool (if employees don’t have to be in the office, you’re not limited to local talent)
  • Greater commitment and loyalty from employees (instead of working for you, they’re working with you)
  • Higher morale with less absenteeism and turnover—and higher levels of engagement
  • Savings on office real estate costs and alignment with corporate sustainability (fewer workers in the office = decreases in pollution and traffic, energy use, etc.)
  • Healthier bottom line

Is a flexibility program right for your organization? While there are obstacles and considerations to be made, including the needs of your business and the nature of employee positions, available technology, wage and hour issues, and security restrictions, these are considerations that must be made nonetheless.

Today’s talent has already made their decision: Without flexibility applicants will seek employment elsewhere or worse yet—your current high performers will walk out the door on to a more flexible, savvier employer.


Pam will be sharing more about Workplace Flexibility at the World at Work Total Rewards Conference in Minneapolis on May 18. Other Willis presenters will include Ron Leopold, Sheila Nordquist and Alycia Riedl. Details here. Hope to see you there!

About Pamela Murray

Guest blogger Pamela Murray is a Senior Human Resources Consultant with the Willis Towers Watson Human Capital Pra…
Categories: Employee Engagement, Leadership and Talent

One Response to Workplace Flexibility Works–For Workers and Employers

  1. Mdek98 says:

    Need a bullet point for: Why 1 in 5 workers want Flexibility:

    How about “I am a career woman involved in the raising of children”

    You included a bullet highlighting men are move involved in raising children!” Today, men are more involved in the raising of children and want to participate in their activities—as their little league coaches and caregivers” and you highlighted women without children. However I think career women with children deserve a bullet point as they are the ones who need the most flexibility because they still provide the majority of child raising and caring for elderly parent care.

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