published November 19, 2019

Flexible Work Arrangements: The Good & the Bad

Flexible Work Arrangements: The Good & the Bad
  • Employees want more flexibility in work scheduling.
  • Flexibility in scheduling can be achieved various ways.
  • Millennials are transforming the culture of the workplace.
  • Employees with flexibility can be happier and more engaged but can also be less accountable.
  • Employers not offering flexibility may not only sacrifice attracting the best talent, they may also have trouble retaining it.
  • Not having a company’s workforce in one location presents challenges. Some can’t be avoided.

It's not only money

There's more to work than just money. Employees, present and future, will be adding more to their list of wants.

Not to say that money isn’t important—and often it can be really, really important. How salary is linked to employee motivation is often debated—how effective is it as a retention tool and how useful is it for high work performance? One thing most agree on is that a reasonable salary is the platform upon which all else is built. And it does have an influence, sometimes a significant one when it comes to prompting a stronger sense of self-worth and accomplishment. It’s also a good insulator against employee dissatisfaction. Current trends indicate that a reasonable salary without recognition and opportunities for advancement won’t likely be enough to motivate the best performances from your staff.

Time is so money

Most believe that a job that offers flexible time or is remote would save them money—86% of respondents thought so, and it’s true—an average of about $4,000 a year is saved by employees working remotely. The same number of people thought it’d spare them stress, too. The lifestyle also fits well into what people are looking for more often from their jobs currently, a work-life balance. Of those surveyed, 97% thought a job with flexibility would bring them huge improvements or positive impacts on their quality of life. Allowing an individual more control over their work schedule also increases their happiness. And from there it spirals: happiness increases engagement, engagement increases productivity, productivity increases profits, and so it goes.

The top three factors people are looking for in a job are:
  • Work-life balance: 73%
  • Salary: 70%
  • Flexible work options: 68%

Flexible work options allow employees to create their own schedules, givesthem more of a feeling of control, and allow opportunities for balancing work and family obligations. Parents will put an especially high premium on such flexibility. According to one survey of employers, 94% claim to provide some sort of flexible scheduling. This claim seems to be inconsistent with others: another survey claimed 96% of employees said they need flexibility, but only 47% reported actually having it—a gap of 54%.

But if you are one of the have nots, as an American you’re in a big club. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks 29th out of 34 countries for work-life balance.

Examples of flexible working practices:
  • Unconventional hours: This gives employees the chance to amend their work shift schedule to suit their needs. Flexible work schedule examples may include coming in early and leaving early to avoid peak traffic.
  • The ability to adapt: Employees have the autonomy to reorder their work to accommodate the personal needs in microincrements. An example could be an employee with otherwise standard hours wanting to pick up their child from school or attend a special event. They’d be allowed to make up the missing number of hours later.
  • Variable location: An employee otherwise based out of a company office can work at a location of their choosing for some portion of their time.
  • Remote: Employees can work from anywhere, away from the company office.
  • Minimal travel: Employees have minimal or reduced travel obligations with a maximum of 10% travel annually (2–4 days per month or its annual equivalent).
  • Part-time: Employees work on a part-time schedule.

Remote & flexible working conditions: How important is it?
  • 77% of workers said they’d be more likely to accept a job offer if they knew telecommuting was an option at least some of the time
  • 61% of workers left or considered leaving a job because it lacked work flexibility options
  • 51% of workers would not consider a job if it had less flexibility than their current job
  • More than 75% of workers would be more loyal to their job if it offered flexible work options
  • 42% of workers said they’d leave a job for a more flexible work option
  • 70% of workers that are Millennials have considered leaving a job for another with flexible work options; only 50% of older workers would do the same
  • 86% of workers between the ages 18-34 would rather take a job with remote work options
  • 65% of workers older than 55 would rather have remote work options

Why we need it: Job colonialism

Our jobs are increasingly creeping into our non-work lives. Since 1950, worker productivity has increased 400% while wages have remained virtually unchanged. Though, your company’s CEO is probably all right: During that same period, the average income of the top 1% swelled to over 240%.

This creep is exemplified by the 24-7 phone and email access your employers now have to you. In a survey of working professionals, 65% say they’re expected to be available through their devices. Because of this, 45% of them feel like they don’t have enough free time; their jobs are no longer just 9 to 5. For a growing many, the walls of the office may follow them wherever they are.

Smartphones: like smart bombs aimed at your free time

For a good part of this creep, you can thank your personal devices—smartphones and tablets have added two hours to our workday. A Gallup report gave a slightly milder picture, saying our work weeks have only ballooned to 47 hours, not 50. Though, The Economist went much further. Their data suggest that smartphones are making 60% of us connected 13 hours a day. And as often happens women are getting the worst of it, particularly mothers: it’s estimated that American mothers have only about 36 minutes of free time a day.

The consequences of all this tethered obligation is more suffering from psychological malaise and physical maladies. Working these longer hours will:
Flexible arrangements: The good and the bad

The Good

More than 20 million Americans choose to work part-time, this according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reasons can be varied: for many it can be a choice of privilege. This kind of person chooses part-time work to allow them time for parenting or to pursue a personal passion. Or, it could be a retiree looking additional income.

Good for the employee:
  • For personal reasons: These people can scale their hours back as a life choice.
  • Retention: Flex workers tend to find more satisfaction in their jobs. They’re also happier and satisfied workers that stay longer at their jobs.
  • Better attendance: Flex time motivates better attendance and fewer missed work days.

And Millennials: As they now make up 35% of the workforce and are only going to continue to grow, they’re also demanding more work-life balance than previous generations.
  • 84% expect to find a good work-life balance in their jobs; 67% say they want flex time.
  • 39% report that their jobs make it challenging for them to find the time to exercise and pursue healthy living.
  • This survey claimed that 16.8 percent of millennials choose their jobs based on schedule flexibility; 11% say it’s a top priority.

Good for the employer: Flexible time is seen as a highly appreciated perk. Research shows that the various types of flexible work arrangements can have significant benefits to the bottom line.
  • Happy and productive: A flexible scheduling environment promotes an overall happier and more productive workforce.
  • Recruitment tool: Flexible scheduling can be considered a perk. This opens up the potential for recruiting better talent.
  • Reduced business costs: For the employer, flexible work schedules can create better economics. Resources can be saved on ancillary expenses—less office space may be needed, less in the way of fixtures or furniture required or other personal necessities.
  • How Big Business did it: By creating an “alternative workspace” (AW), AT&T increased its cash flow by $550 million since 1991 in reducing office space—a 30% improvement—consolidating others, and reducing other related overhead costs.
    IBM created an AW program called the Mobility Initiative, saving the company more than $100 million annually in its North America sales and distribution unit alone. In a survey of their employees, 87% believe their personal productivity and effectiveness increased significantly as a result of the AW.
  • Deductions! American Express COO Kenneth I. Chenault said the company’s initiatives helped them to retain experienced employees; these benefits go beyond the company wall—cities have fewer commuters and improved air quality. Employees can deduct home office costs on their taxes, or will be able to soon.
  • Cultural upgrade: Your employees will notice a “give-take” of your company culture and appreciate how it values the different needs of its staff members

For many workers, inflexible no longer works

Many employees are finding inflexible work schedules untenable, especially in regards to promoting their job satisfaction, engagement, and stress:
  • 68% of those with inflexible schedules reported “unreasonable” levels of work stress compared to the only 20% of respondents with flexible schedules that felt that way
  • 59% of those with an inflexible work environment wanted to leave their jobs compared to 22% of those with flexible schedules

The Bad

For many, part-time is a compromise they make until they can find a full-time situation. Such is the case for 6 million part-timers who want full-time: the underemployed or “involuntary” part-time. Ex-Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen called these jobs “hidden unemployment.”
  • Want vs. Get: While many workers would prefer their that employers offer flexible schedules, or job seekers searching out employers that do, the percentage of employers offering flexible work schedules has increased only minimally in the past decade: from about 4% to 5%.
  • The Price of Not Getting: Those who’ve quit a job due to a lack of scheduling flexibility have more than doubled from 13% in 2014 to 31% in 2018.
  • The Exploiters: Flexible working requires trust on the part of both parties and some workers may lose some of their productivity without supervision. It’ll be up to the employer to be proactive in their supervision for safeguarding worker output.
  • Accountability: Direct supervision and staff maintenance is more elusive with remote teams and holding these employees accountable is more challenging. Time tracking software can help.
  • Doesn’t Help with Team-building: Limiting social contact with co-workers, as happens with telecommuting, doesn’t allow for employees to know one another. This lack of contact can create a lack of cohesiveness with the team and can have the effect of limiting productivity.
  • Conflict Creator: Dissent can arise among staff if parents and caregivers are given preference or approval while others aren’t; this can not only create conflict, it can open a business to potential litigation. Good judgment and some finesse will both be required to avoid potential problems.
  • Communication Inefficiencies: Work streams can often rely on teams and teams communicate best when they’re accessible and in the same building. Flexible working can have team members coming and going at different times and this creates communication breakdowns and delays. Scheduled meetings can be difficult. Such inefficiencies will have to be managed to ensure good flows of communication happen and effective collaborations can go on unimpeded.
  • No Meetings: Arranging meetings with people of different schedules and availability is often difficult.
  • A Culture in Crisis: When employees don’t work together at the same time it can create impediments to establishing and building a company culture.
  • Industrial Space Encroaches on Sacred Space: Working from home can have your job creeping into every time and space of your home. This can influence the way you shape your choices and make you question your priorities. Work at home can be easily interrupted or distracted and the work day can easily encroach into non-work hours and for many a balance can be hard to maintain. Blocking time and hiding from people (and their interruptions) is a highly recommended strategy.

Flexible employment: Some rules and guidelines will be necessary

Creating a full-time staff policy: An official policy designating the parameters and details of your remote program should be included in your employee handbook. Employees should know:
  • When they need to be in the office for meetings
  • When they need to be available and accessible during the work day
  • If the program is subject to conditions or change and whether they may be asked to return to an in-office schedule

Employees should also be expected to acknowledge and pledge to abide by the rules of the program—this may require an official signing of a document.

One of the biggest reasons employers have not offered workplace flexibility is because of the fear of employees acting out and exploiting the opportunity. Employers fear losing control. But the employees gain doesn’t have to come at the employers’ loss: Giving employees the flexibility to make their own schedules doesn’t have to mean that they’re going to stop showing up to the office entirely. Generally speaking, this fear is completely unfounded.

In reality, the exact opposite usually happens. Your employees will value their jobs more and show you more respect because your flexibility has done the same for them.

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