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Many professionals consider developing a culture of flexibility in the workplace a necessity, not a perk or a wish-list item. Growing numbers of leaders in different fields are becoming more vocal in their support of workplace flexibility to accommodate employees’ need to balance work and personal or family responsibilities.

At a February 2011 event sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Families and Work Institute (FWI), Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called adapting to these changes  “a strategic imperative for our country,” sentiments also echoed by representatives from companies including Deloitte LLP, the largest professional services firm in the U.S., and Ryan LLC., a mid-sized Dallas-based tax service firm.

From SHRM:

“People are our best resource, and we have moved to a much broader and deeper understanding of what that means,” said Mullen. “Military families have been through an extraordinarily difficult time,” he noted, with one parent often away for extended periods while their spouse holds a full-time job. Even with both parents stateside, military careers have involved strenuous (and often inflexible) hours. “The strains this imposes on families has led many star performers to abandon their military careers at a time when the nation simply can’t afford to lose their talent and experience,” Mullen observed. To confront this loss of talent, Mullen has championed workplace flexibility in the armed forces.

Recent research supports the argument that employees value having more control over their schedules, time off or work location. In the Families and Work Institute’s 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce, 87 percent of all employees reported that having the flexibility to manage their work and personal obligations would be “extremely” or “very” important if they were looking for a new job. One in 5 employees disagree “somewhat” or “strongly” that they have the workplace flexibility that they desire in their current jobs.

The study also gathered the following data:

  • 75 percent of employed parents feel they don’t have enough time with their children, up from 66 percent in 1992.
  • 63 percent of employees in relationships feel they don’t have enough time with their spouses or partners, compared with 50 percent in 1992.
  • 60 percent of employees feel they don’t have enough time for themselves, up from 55 percent in 2002.
  • 79 percent of employers offer traditional flex time to some employees and 37 percent offer it to all or most employees.
  • 32 percent of employers allow some employees to change their starting and quitting
  • times on short notice (daily flex time), and 10% permit all or most of these employees to do so.
  • 50 percent of employers offer occasional flex place to some employees, and 3 percent offer this option to all or most employees.
  • The percentage of employees who are allowed to take time off during the workday to take care
  • of personal or family matters has increased, along with employees who have access to paid holidays and the opportunity to perform volunteer work during work time.

In many ways, employees in 2011 have more flexible work options than ever before– from being able to make last-minute scheduling changes because of a sick child to having the opportunity to work from home occasionally. However, advocates for workplace flexibility argue that more can be done to meet the needs of employees.

What do you think? Do you have flexible work options within your organization? What are the benefits and challenges of creating a culture of flexibility?  Employee development courses should weave in content on workplace flexibility.


Learn about EDSI’s Working Successfully in a Changing Environment course.

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