Workflex Likely to Expand Significantly, Though Not All Managers on Board

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Almost 3 in 4 HR pros say managers don’t reward them for supporting flexible work arrangements


HR professionals say telecommuting and other flexible work options will increase substantially during the next five years, yet nearly three in four of them say it’s “not very true” or “not at all true” that managers reward them when they support such flexibility, according to a new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey.

In fact, more than one in four HR professionals “somewhat” or “strongly” disagree that top managers support workers’ efforts to balance their work and personal life responsibilities, according to the survey, 2014 Workplace Flexibility—Overview of Flexible Work Arrangements, which SHRM released Oct. 15 at its 2014 Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition in New Orleans. Another 71 percent say management doesn’t reward HR pros who support flexible work arrangements (FWAs).

“There are still some managers who don’t support flexible work arrangements for different reasons, and that is always likely to be the case,” said Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs. “However … even managers who are not supportive will need to be supportive. As more organizations offer flexible work arrangements to recruit and retain top employees … they may need to be [supportive] or else their organization may become less competitive.”

FWAs include compressed workweeks, phased retirement, job sharing, break arrangements, shift flexibility, telecommuting and sabbaticals.

Of the 39 percent of respondents who said their organization offered telecommuting, more than one-quarter (26 percent) said it increased worker productivity, while almost one-third (32 percent) said the absenteeism rates of those who telecommute decreased. Asked how they measured the productivity of telecommuting workers, nearly half the respondents said it was by how responsive the employee was—for instance, by returning e-mails or phone calls. Forty-three percent said they measured productivity by asking the telecommuting worker to meet specific goals.

SHRM polled 525 HR professionals from April through June 2014. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Workflex on the Rise

More than one-half of respondents said flexibility had a positive impact on attracting and retaining employees, turnover, absenteeism rates, productivity, quality of employees’ work, quality of employees’ personal lives, employee health, company culture, company public image, and employee morale and job satisfaction.

Almost three-quarters or more (73 percent to 92 percent) of HR professionals from organizations that offer flexible work said that 16 types of flexible arrangements were “somewhat” or “very” successful. Compressed workweeks and flextime earned the highest percentage of positive reviews. Sabbaticals received the highest percentage of negative reviews, with 35 percent rating them “neither successful or unsuccessful” or “not at all successful.”

“Sabbaticals are probably one of the most difficult FWAs to incorporate, because they require planning and coordinating for a longer-term employee absence,” Esen said. “This can impact productivity and add costs to the organization if replacement workers and co-workers need to step in. Such programs work nicely in organizations that already incorporate job sharing, cross-training and rotational job assignments.”

Respondents reported that FWAs are increasingly in demand among employees, and will be more so in the future. Almost one in three HR professionals said that employee requests for flexible work arrangements increased in the past year. More than eight in 10 respondents said they believed telecommuting and other FWAs would be more common at organizations in five years than they are today.

“I think the perceptions about work/life fit are changing in that it is [more] acceptable for employees to telecommute and use other FWAs today than ever before,” Esen said. “As more employers embrace these options and more employees utilize them, organizations see that they can be beneficial for both parties. One of the most important aspects of any type of work is to get the job done in the most productive manner possible. So long as employees are meeting their work goals effectively, does it matter where they are working?”
But regardless of what survey respondents think about the success of current FWAs at their own organizations, or about the future of FWAs at companies in general, survey respondents reported that they don’t believe more of their own workers will have flexible work options in the coming years.

Only 39 percent said a larger portion of their workforce would be “likely” or “very likely” to telecommute in the next five years, while less than half (48 percent) said the same about workers becoming eligible for other flexible options in the next five years.

Lack of executive buy-in may contribute to this outlook.

Even though 83 percent said it was “very important” that they had support from top executives for their FWA programs to be successful, more than one in four respondents—27 percent—“somewhat” or “strongly” disagreed that top managers support employees’ efforts to balance their work and personal responsibilities. Another 71 percent said it’s “not very true” or “not at all true” that management rewards those in the organization who support FWAs.  
Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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