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Flexible work arrangements boost morale and retention, execs say

By Workplace Staff

The advantages of offering flexibility in work arrangements are attracting more corporate attention, suggests a recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). The study found that a full 84 per cent of companies overall believe that flexible work arrangements in their organization boosts employee morale.

That figure is up from 76 per cent in a similar 2008 study conducted by i4cp. Correspondingly, the 2009 study showed that 78 per cent of polled companies say flexwork options bolster retention rates, up from 64 per cent the previous year.

According to the most recent study results, "flextime" (flexible start/end times) is the most-used flexwork option, with 76 per cent of companies overall selecting it as their top option. Working from home was the second-most favoured, at 59 per cent overall (that figure jumps to 70 per cent in companies with more than 10,000 employees), followed by part-time work, pointed to by 56 per cent of organizations.

"It's clear that, increasingly, employers are offering alternative work arrangements – especially flexible scheduling and the option to telecommute – to their employees," says Lorrie Lykins, i4cp's managing editor.

"It’s looked at more often these days as a strategy that can meet several needs, including rewarding workers when pay raises are not an option, easing stress on employees, and lowering overhead in some cases."

So, who is most likely to request a flexible work arrangement? Employees in professional roles top the list at 85 per cent, followed by those in administrative roles (60 per cent). In general, younger employees – 29 per cent (41 per cent in large companies) – are more likely to request the benefit, and more females (35 per cent) than males (6 per cent) tend to make such requests.

The most common rationales cited for offering flexible work arrangements by 60 per cent of the overall respondents (and 69 per cent of large companies) were that the employees' "job doesn't require presence in the office," followed by 60 per cent who said long commutes were a reason, and 47 per cent of respondents cited offering flexible arrangements for employees returning from maternity leave.

Keeping tabs on flexible work arrangements is also a priority. Sixty-nine percent of polled companies use established deadlines to measure productivity in a flexible work situation, while 66 per cent keep an eye on project completion and 39 per cent rely on periodic status reports.

With today's added focus on flexwork options, however, come additional concerns. When asked how flexible work options might be a detriment to the organization, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of the 2009 study respondents said that flexwork arrangements tend to frustrate workers who cannot utilize the benefit, compared to 36 per cent a year ago, and 42 per cent of 2009 respondents reported that the option is frustrating to managers, while just 20 per cent felt so in 2008.

Also, the current economic situation appears to have limited bearing on flexwork programs. Sixty percent of all companies polled said the economy has had no effect on their programs, and 19 per cent related they have increased flexible work options. Just 8 per cent have reduced options in their companies.

The 2009 Flexible Work Arrangement Pulse Survey was conducted by i4cp in July 2009. A total of 306 respondents participated. An i4cp spokesperson notes that while most of the respondents were from U.S. companies, there were some Canadian companies surveyed.

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