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The modern American family takes many different forms in 2012. In many families with children, both parents work outside of the home and must balance child care along with their job responsibilities. Some families also care for an elderly parent or another family member who needs medical assistance. For these reasons, workplace flexibility and health care benefits are increasingly important concerns for many American workers.

Families and Work Institute (FWI), in cooperation with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), recently released the 2012 National Study of Employers (NSE), a comprehensive study on

the “practices, policies, programs and benefits provided by U.S. employers to address the changing needs of today’s workforce and workplace, including workplace flexibility, health care and economic security benefits, caregiving leave and elder care assistance.” The study was first conducted in 1998 and has measured trends and changes in workplaces over time.

The NSE is designed to complement FWI’s ongoing National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). NSCW data from 2002 and 2008 showed that employees in more effective, flexible, family-friendly workplaces, are more likely than oth

er employees to have:

  • higher levels of job satisfaction
  • greater engagement in their work
  • stronger intentions to stay at their place of employment
  • less negative, stressful spillover from job to home and vice versa
  • better mental health

The 2008 NSCW also found that employees with more workplace flexibility are more likely to have:

  • excellent physical health
  • a low incidence of minor health and sleep problems
  • no indicators of depression
  • a low general stress level

The 2012 NSE study surveyed 1,126 employers — 75 percent for-profit and 25 percent nonprofit organizations — with 50 or more employees,

and the results are striking. The economic landscape of the United States has changed significantly during the last seven years, and due to a tough recession, a slow recovery and a continuously high rate of unemployment, employers’ practices, policies, programs and benefits have all been affected. Some changes are positive and encourage a more family-friendly workplace; others are more limiting and may increase challenges for families with two working parents.

A Snapshot of Workplace Flexibility in 2012

  • From 2005 to 2012, employers have increased their provision of options that allow employees to decide the time and location of their work, including:
    • Flex time (from 66 to 77 percent)
    • Flexible place (from 34 to 63 percent)
    • Choices in managing time (from 78 percent to 93 percent)
    • Daily time off when important needs arise (from 77 to 87 percent)
  • From 2005 to 2012, employers have reduced their provision of options that allow employees to spend significant amounts of time away from full-time work, including:
    • Moving from part-time to full-time and back again (from 54 to 41 percent)
    • Flexible career options such as career breaks for personal or family reasons (from 73 to 52 percent)
  • The maximum length of caregiving leaves offered to new fathers after the birth of a child, new adoptive parents and employees caring for seriously ill family members has declined since 2005
  • More employers are now offering at least 12 weeks of leave for women following the birth of a child, compared to 2005 (from 79 to 91 percent)
  • The majority of employers (75 percent) report that they provide paid or unpaid time off for employees to provide elder care without jeopardizing their jobs. FWI research released in 2010 found that 42 percent ofemployees provided elder care in the past five years and 49 percentexpected to in the coming five years.
  • Organizations where women make up less than 25 percent of the workforce are more likely to have a low level of workplace flexibility than organizations where women represent a larger share of the workforce.
  • Organizations where racial and ethnic minorities make up more than 50 percent of the employees are more likely to have a low level of flexibility than organizations where racial and ethnic minorities represent a smaller share of the workforce.

What do you think of this recent research? Is your organization a family-friendly workplace, or do you think it could do more to improve flexibility?

What Will Workplace Flexibility Look Like in the Future?

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