New Guide Spotlights Flexible Workplace Successes

News Updates

Cutting-edge U.S. employers are developing successful work-fit practices—and reaping positive outcomes that employers attribute to their flexible and effective workplace practices and culture—even while the economy slowly moves from a recessionary entrenchment, according to a new publication on workplace flexibility.

The Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released the 2011 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work in March 2011, featuring the latest winners of the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility.

The guide profiles innovative practices “from 425 employers that are creating effective and flexible workplaces to make work ‘work’ better for both the bottom line and for employees.” All of the featured employers are recipients of the Sloan Awards in 2009 and/or 2010. The winners represent employers of different sizes, industries and regions, selected through a rigorous application process that incorporates an employer and employee survey, according to FWI.

“We have found that this guide is the ultimate go-to resource,” FWI President and Co-founder Ellen Galinsky told SHRM Online. The book will serve as a resource “for employers searching for new ways to create a more flexible and effective workplace, for job seekers looking for employers that fit their values, or for community leaders working on making their community a great place to do business,” Galinsky said.

Among the organizations profiled in the guide:

BDO USA, LLP: The accounting and professional services firm’s official strategy, BDO Flex, aims to help everyone in the firm achieve the optimal work-life fit, using a combination of formal arrangements, informal day-to-day flexibility, and a paid-time-off program.

“A workplace with more options does involve upfront costs,” said General Counsel and BDO Flex Chair Barbara Taylor, “but those expenses are far outweighed by long-term benefits, not the least of which is the ability to retain staff. Public accounting has been traditionally known as a profession where you sacrificed your life outside work to be successful.”

BDO offers a strong family leave policy that includes nine weeks of fully paid leave for new biological and adoptive parents, and a return-to-work program to give new parents the resources and support that they need. The company plans to launch the New Parent Network in spring 2011, which will create virtual forums to connect new parents to BDO mentors who can guide them through the process of raising a child while maintaining their career.

Other flexible workplace practices BDO has used include telecommuting, rotating compressed workweeks, and shared office plans that more efficiently use smaller office space, and save money on real estate.

Cisco Systems Inc.: The technology solutions company has made great strides in the last couple of years to formalize, expand and support workplace flexibility, according to FWI. Cisco employees commonly cite workplace flexibility as a key attribute that they like about the company, and flexibility was the most commonly cited positive attribute identified in a series of 73 global focus groups conducted throughout the company.

Cisco states that technology and workplace flexibility have reduced organizational costs, including cutting travel by two-thirds, and reduced its real estate footprint. By mid-2010, approximately 90 percent of its worldwide employees were covered by telecommuting and flextime policies, as well as formal flexible options of part-time and remote work (full-time work from an employee’s home). One innovative program spotlighted in the guide is Cisco’s “Off/On Ramp,” which enables employees to take a 12- to 24-month unpaid break from their career, with Cisco paying for the employee’s (and employee’s family members’) benefits during the first year.

Dow Chemical Company: In early 2008, the chemical giant launched a new component to its flexibility options: Primarily to address an aging workforce and the potential loss of their seasoned workers’ expertise, the company introduced scheduling options for those transitioning into retirement. Employees can move to a part-time, telecommuting or job-sharing schedule with no loss of benefits and no increase in medical premiums.

All employees have laptop computers and many have BlackBerry devices and cell phones, enabling them to work outside the office. Staff at the Houston, Texas, site also have access to an on-site workout facility and gourmet cafeteria; and they can begin using their vacation and personal days immediately upon employment.

Dow said these workplace features increase employee engagement, help attract top-quality job candidates and generally strengthen business results.

Margolin, Winer & Evens LLP: The certified public accounting firm strives to create a workplace where employees aren’t forced to sacrifice their careers and skills to have a family. In addition to telecommuting and a partially paid summer sabbatical program, one innovative practice lets employees donate their paid time off to co-workers with pressing family or medical issues, allowing them to continue collecting up to 100 percent of their pay after they have exhausted their paid-time-off days.

Discounts on gym memberships, auto and home insurance, and a housing program that enables employees to receive $5,000 to $10,000 down-payment assistance are other popular employee benefits, as are seminars for working parents to share strategies for managing responsibilities at home and at work.

The Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility are part of “When Work Works,” a national project on workplace effectiveness and flexibility sponsored by FWI in partnership with SHRM.

Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.