When Yahoo’s CEO announced this year that she was banning telecommuting, a firestorm of protest erupted nationwide. The policy change goes against the prevailing view in the American workforce that telecommuting is an option that helps employees achieve a satisfactory work-life balance.
See also: AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50
And smart companies know that work-life balance opportunities are important to their recruitment and retention strategies. Consider this: If job applicants have a choice between a company that allows them to work where they want, when they want and how they want, and another company with a one-size-fits-all policy and no flexibility, which do you think they will choose? Which company would have better retention rates?
A recent study by Accenture revealed that work-life balance — ahead of money, recognition and autonomy — is the key determiner for more than half of men and women as to whether or not they have a successful career.
Seventy percent of both women and men believe they can have a successful career as well as a full life outside work. However, 50 percent also said they cannot “have it all at the same time.” Further, more than half (52 percent) say they have turned down a job due to concerns about its impact on work-life balance. In fact, work-life balance tops respondents’ definitions of career success, ahead of money, recognition and autonomy (cited by 56 percent, 46 percent, 42 percent and 42 percent, respectively).
What's in It for Employers?
Many companies that offer flexible work arrangements are finding it gives them an edge over their competition in recruitment and retention. In fact, in Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013: The AARP Work and Career Study, many workers cited flexible work arrangements, including a flexible schedule (72 percent), opportunity to work part time (48 percent) and ability to work from home (36 percent), as absolutely essential parts of an ideal job.
Flexible work arrangements can be also good for employers as well. According to a February 2013 Sloan Center on Aging & Work study, the study found that workplace flexibility created “compelling” gains, despite possible issues related to monitoring, manager skepticism and the potential for declining productivity. Employers benefit from improved morale and engagement, better recruitment outcomes and workforce retention, and the enhanced productivity offered by a stable talent pool.
An Age-Neutral Advantage
AARP research shows that many boomers would defer retirement if they could work fewer hours on a less rigid schedule. What's more, younger generations increasingly expect and demand work flexibility. As four generations find themselves under the same roof with myriad different needs, companies will find that they have no choice but to be flexible.
Defining Flexible Work Arrangements
Flexible work arrangements come in a variety of configurations.
For example, AARP has found innovative arrangements among its Best Employers for Workers Over 50 award recipients.
- WVU Hospitals: Flexible scheduling options have been implemented so employees do not have to work consistent days throughout the week, and employees also have the option of changing their shift hours in the winter months because of difficult driving conditions.
- Mercy Health System: Flextime, compressed work schedules, telecommuting and a formal phased-in retirement program are offered to employees working 20-plus hours per week.
In fact, the majority of the 50 Best Employer winners allow for some sort of alternative scheduling arrangements. To see more information about the 2013 winners, go to www.aarp.org/bestemployers.
But, generally, flexible work arrangements essentially mean four things:
- When to work. This includes flextime, in which employees have flexible start and stop times or take time off during the day, but still work a regular 35- to 40-hour work week. (Some companies require all employees to be at work during certain core hours.) Other options are compressed work weeks, where (for example) instead of working five days a week, employees work four 10-hour days; part-time work, which could mean reduced weekly or annual hours; seasonal work i.e. clocking in just six months of the year, such as during the busy winter season in Florida. Still more FWAs include summers off, weekends only, or even three months on, three months off.
- Where to work. Options include telecommuting, or working from home either all week or part of the week, or working in more than one location if an employer has more than one office or branch.
- How to work. This might be job sharing, which means splitting one job between two employees, with salary and benefits prorated; phased retirement or cutting back on hours over a period of time before fully retiring, often continuing to receive pension or health care benefits; temporary, contract, or even per diem work.
- What to receive for working. This involves choosing specific benefits, whether it's for childcare or eldercare, for instance, or a flexible spending account. Benefits depend on an employee's needs and stage of life.
The Workplace Flexibility 2010 initiative offers more definitions of flexible work arrangements, along with a wealth of resources. Also make sure to view AARP resources including Life Reimagined for Work and Best Employers for Workers Over 50.