HR Knowledge: Creating a Flexible Workplace - SHRM India


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There are many reasons why flexible work is a good business decision.

Before implementing flexible work options, employers should:
Understand flexible work options (Class Two).
Determine the goals of their initiative and select the right options for their employees (Class Three).

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  • Flexible work options give employees control over when and where they work. The demand for flexible work is increasing, but many organizations confront challenges in implementing flexible work options. This module defines flexible work; discusses the organizational gains possible when offering flexible work; and explores how to implement a flexible work program.
  • Demographic changes in the workplace, requests from employees for more flexibility, and other trends are increasing the desire for flexible work.
    - Technology makes flexible work options possible. Employees can use e-mail, mobile phones and text messaging, making it easy to communicate any time, anywhere. The Internet allows remote access to business systems, making it possible to work from home or other locations.
    - Different generational priorities also increase demand for flexible work.
    Many Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) approaching retirement are deciding to stay in the workforce past retirement age for financial or personal reasons; the American Association of Retired Persons estimates that 69 percent of Baby Boomers will work past retirement age. To entice them to stay in the workforce (and avoid a sudden and dramatic skill shortage), most experts suggest that employers provide flexible work options (Tahmincioglu, 2007).
    Generation Y workers (born from mid-80’s to mid-90’s) are entering the workforce. Research suggests that this generation has different perceptions of work/life balance and want to pursue personal interests as well as their career. Experts suggest that employers provide flexible work to retain the talent of this upcoming generation (Hira, 2007; Schramm, 2007).
    Discussion Questions:
    More employees want flexible work options. How do you think employers can benefit from flexible work?
  • Flexible work options benefit employers as well as employees. Workplace flexibility benefits employers through increased productivity, improved retention, support in meeting diversity goals and support of an employer’s social responsibility efforts.
  • Research has shown no negative effect on worker productivity when employees participate in flexible work options. In fact, there is growing evidence that flexible work has a positive effect on productivity.
    A meta-analysis of 31 flexible work studies found that flexible schedules increased employee productivity and lowered absenteeism (Baltes,, 1999).
    In the National Study of the Changing Workforce, a study by the Families and Work Institute, 39 percent of employees with high availability of flexible work arrangements reported “high levels of loyalty and the willingness to work harder than required to help their employers succeed” (Bond, Thompson, Galinsky, & Prottas, 2002, p. 34).
    According to the National Work Life Measurement Project, approximately one-third of managers said their work group was more productive because it included employees who used flexible work arrangements (Fried, Litchfield, & Pruchno, 2003, p. 36).
  • Here are some examples of organizations whose flexible work options have had a positive effect on the organization as a whole:
    -A study including Merck, Unilever, Bank of Montreal, Starbucks and Baxter International found that flexible work options led to greater productivity and efficiency and improved team functioning (Kossek & Hall, 2007).
    -Cisco’s telework program resulted in $195 million in increased productivity (Giglio).
    -91 percent of employees in flexible work arrangements at McGraw-Hill report a positive impact on productivity (HR Focus, 2007).
    - Since the implementation of Capital One’s flexible workplace program, there has been a 53 percent increase in employees who say the nature of their workplace enhances productivity (Pomeroy, 2007).
    Discussion Question:
    Why are employees who participate in flexible work arrangements more productive?
    Possible Answers:
    They report experiencing less stress in their lives. If they are on a reduced-hour schedule, they may feel more urgency to get work done. They may feel more committed to the organization. They tend be absent less because they can work at an alternate time instead of taking a sick day.
  • In addition to increased productivity, flexible work options lower employee turnover, which saves the organization money.
    Catalyst, a non-profit research organization, examined the effects of a positive work/life culture and found a strong correlation with intent to stay at a company (Catalyst, 2005).
    In the National Study of the Changing Workforce, 73 percent of employees with high availability of flexible work arrangements said they would stay with their current employer for the next year (Bond, Thompson, Galinsky, & Prottas, 2002).
  • Best Buy has seen a 90 percent reduction in employee turnover in departments that have implemented ROWE (Jossi, 2007).
    Deloitte reports they have saved $41.5 million in turnover costs since implementing flexible work options (Corporate Voices, 2005).
    The employee retention rate in Aflac’s call center operations has gone from 87 percent to 94 percent (Giglio).
  • Because flexible work options help employers support different employee groups’ needs, flexible work initiatives can help employers meet diversity goals.
    Deloitte Consulting started a flexible work initiative to specifically address the turnover rate of talented female professionals. Deloitte offers a variety of benefits and programs to support working mothers, including flexible work options and extended leaves of absence (McCracken, 2000).
    As already discussed, flexible work is an attractive benefit to workers nearing retirement age as well as Generation Y workers.
    Flexible work options allow employers to accommodate workers’ disabilities. In fact, the Job Accommodation Network ( suggests a flexible work schedule as an accommodation for many disabilities, including chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
    Finally, flexible work options support different cultural backgrounds and religions by giving employees flexibility to participate in their religion’s customs or practices.
  • Flexible work options help employers become more socially responsible.
    Flexible work options reduce the number of commuters on the roads. Employees on compressed workweeks and part-time schedules commute less; telecommuting eliminates the commute entirely. Fewer commuters helps the environment.
    Parents with flexible work schedules feel they are more involved in their children’s lives and can better meet their family obligations. Conversely, parents who are able to manage their households will be better able to focus on work.
    Flexible work options support the community. Parental involvement is important for schools. Employees with flexibility may be more likely to be involved in volunteer organizations in their communities.
    A Deloitte study found that 91 percent of participants agreed that workers were more likely to behave ethically when they had a good work/life balance. When employees are dissatisfied with their work, they are more likely to rationalize inappropriate behavior; however, if they are satisfied with work, they tend to be more honest. This is good for both the organization and society as a whole (Gurchiek, 2007).
  • With so many benefits associated with flexible work arrangements, employers may be eager to implement them in their workplaces. It is important, though, to make sure that flexible work makes sense for the organization. In the next two class meetings, we will learn how to determine if flexible work options are appropriate for an organization; which options an employer should select based on employee needs; and how to implement those options.
  • Today’s flexible work options fall into three categories: alternate schedules; reduced-hour alternatives; and telecommuting.
  • In alternate schedules, employees work full-time. Here are some common alternatives:
    Flextime. Employees work full-time but can start their days earlier or later than the organization’s normal start time. For example, if most employees work 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. each day, flextime employees might instead work 7:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. or 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. 
    Flexible schedule. Employees working flexible schedules set their working hours on a daily or weekly basis. Employers can offer a wide range of flexible schedules, from allowing employees to set their schedule each week, to the extreme schedule flexibility that Best Buy offers.
    Compressed workweek. A compressed workweek provides an alternative to the traditional five 8-hour day workweek. Compressed workweek employees work longer hours in fewer days. Alternate schedule options include working four 10-hour days or three 13-hour days.
  • Reduced-hour alternatives allow employees to work less. These options include:
    Part-time work. Part-time is any schedule that is less than full-time in a workweek.  Full-time employment is usually considered 40 hours per week. A part-time schedule can be set so the employee works the same days and times each week, or it may vary from week to week.
    Job sharing. In a job share, two different people share the same job. The pair has one job description and one workspace. There are a number of ways to divide the workload. Typically, those in a job share arrangement divide the work to ensure coverage at all times, either by the day, week or month.
    Contract work. Some organizations engage workers for short-term contract assignments. In these arrangements, the workers are not actually employees but independent contractors hired to work on a project. Employers find that contract work is a great option to retain an employee who wishes to stay at home for a few years but remain connected to the company. Contract work is also a popular option for retirees.
    Seasonal work. Some organizations offer employees the opportunity to work full-time, but only during certain periods of the year. For example, the hospitality industry often has job opportunities during a busy tourist season. Or, an accounting firm may have employees who work only during tax season.
  • Telecommuting allows workers to use technology to work from home or anywhere. Telecommuters work independently, dealing with customers on the telephone or submitting work via e-mail. Some telecommuters work full-time from home, while others work a few days in the office and a few days out of the office each week. 
    Some employers offer telecommuting on an “as needed” basis where the employee does not telecommute on a regular schedule, but only when they choose to. For example, an employee may decide to work from home for the rest of the day after a doctor’s appointment.
    Discussion Questions:
    Telecommuting is becoming a popular option for employers because of advancing technology. Are there jobs you think are not suitable for telecommuting? What skills or characteristics do you think an employee should possess to be considered a successful telecommuter?
    Possible Responses:
    Positions that require a lot of interaction with other employees may make telecommuting a challenge. Telecommuters must be self-motivated and able to work independently. They must also be focused and not be easily distracted.
  • A successful flexibility initiative includes more than just flexible work options. While flexible work can help employees with meeting personal needs, employees are more likely to have better work/life balance if the employer fosters a culture that supports work/life balance.
  • Sometimes employers want to implement flexible work, only to realize that it will not be accepted within their existing culture and structure.
    For example, Deloitte quickly learned that they needed to address organizational culture before launching their flexible work initiative. Deloitte leaders knew their proposed changes were contrary to some firmly held beliefs, such as the number of hours a week a “committed” employee worked. A cultural change was necessary, or the initiative would not be successful (McCracken, 2000).
    Other employers realize that existing policies and practices conflict with flexible work. For example, an organization may have a restrictive attendance policy or base promotions on the number of overtime hours worked. Flexible work options often go against such policies.
    - Managers may think flexible work options are a “working mom” benefit. Further, managers may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with measuring performance instead of attendance.
    It is important to design and implement your initiative with these barriers in mind. Part of your implementation plan may include change management training to address the need for cultural change.
  • The first step to implement a flexible work program is to build the business case for the initiative. Conduct research about flexible work and identify the internal goals of the initiative. For example, an employer may want to reduce turnover. To build the business case, calculate how much turnover costs the organization to estimate the projected value of the initiative.
    To determine what types of flexible options would have the greatest organizational impact, employers must understand the challenges their employees face and what kinds of work options they would use. To obtain this information, employers can survey employees, conduct focus group discussions and review information from exit interviews.
  • After an employer decides which flexible work options to offer employees, policies and guidelines for the program must be developed. A few recommendations:
    Start simple and keep it simple. Employers may make their flexible work programs inflexible if they place too many rules and restrictions on them. Best Buy leaders, for example, were deliberately informal in developing their guidelines. Instead of a formal policy, Best Buy issued 13 commandments, such as “there are no work schedules” and “all meetings are optional” (Jossi, 2007).
    Employers should ask employees to write a proposal for their flexible work arrangement. Written proposals help employees think about how the arrangement will benefit the organization. Further, by doing the research to write the proposal, employees will think through exactly how the arrangement will work. This can help employees work through any obstacles they might come across.
    -Employers must also consider how flexible work options will change other benefits and practices. For example, if health insurance is available only to full-time employees, the employer may want to expand coverage to include part-time workers. Employers must also determine how time-off policies may be affected.
    Discussion Question:
    What should an employee proposal for a flexible work arrangement include?
    Possible Responses:
    Proposals should include a proposed work schedule and work plan; articulated benefits to the organization; address any anticipated challenges; the affects to co-workers and clients; and a communication plan (HR Focus, 2007).
  • Before launching a flexible workplace initiative, make sure managers and employees understand and support it.
    Managers will need training to understand the program’s policies and how to effectively manage workers in flexible arrangements. If managers will decide which workers will be eligible for flexible work arrangements, they will need guidance to make sure their decisions are fair and unbiased. Some managers may need training on how to measure performance and evaluate their employees based on work outcomes instead of work inputs.
    Employees must understand the policies and know how to request a flexible arrangement. They must also understand what it takes to succeed in a flexible arrangement. This may include training in time management and decision-making skills. Finally, employees in flexible arrangements can benefit from networking opportunities with other employees in flexible arrangements.
    Discussion Question:
    How can networking support flexible workers?
    Possible Responses:
    They can trade tips on working in flexible work arrangements.
    They can learn how to structure their work in a flexible arrangement.
    They can get advice when problems occur.
  • A crucial (yet often overlooked) step to implement a flexibility initiative is to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Evaluation will assess if the program is working for employees and how the organization is benefiting from the program.
    Evaluation data can help determine if you need to make any changes to program policies. It also helps build support for future work/life programs because it can justify the time and financial investments the organization has made in the program.
  • Flexible work will continue to be a focus for successful organizations. Creative employees and companies will continue to find flexible ways to work. Further, flexible work initiatives will likely become organizational “must-haves” as more employers and employees discover the benefits of flexible work.
  • This presentation provides several important ideas that can be applied in particularly difficult conflict situations.
  • HR Knowledge: Creating a Flexible Workplace - SHRM India

    1. 1. Creating a Flexible Workplace Lori K. Long, Ph.D.  Class One  Employee and Labor Relations  2008
    2. 2. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Growing Demand • Role of technology > Communication > Information access • Generational priorities > Baby Boomers > Generation Y
    3. 3. For more on Indian HR industry, click here The Business Case for Flexibility • Increases productivity • Improves retention • Helps meet diversity goals • Aligns with social responsibility
    4. 4. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Increased Productivity • A meta-analysis of 31 studies on flexible work found that flexible schedules increased productivity and reduced absenteeism. • 39 percent of employees with flexible work arrangements reported increased loyalty and a willingness to work harder. • Approximately one-third of managers said their work group was more productive because it included employees who used flexible work arrangements.
    5. 5. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Productivity – Organization Examples • Flexible work options > Merck, Unilever, Bank of Montreal, Starbucks, and Baxter International • Telework program > Cisco • Flexible work arrangements > McGraw-Hill • Workplace flexibility > Capital One
    6. 6. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Improved Retention • A Catalyst study found a strong correlation between a positive work/life culture and employee intent to stay at the organization. • 73 percent of employees with high availability of flexible work arrangements say they would stay for at least another year.
    7. 7. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Retention – Organization Examples • Best Buy: 90 percent reduction in employee turnover. • Deloitte: $41.5 million savings in turnover costs. • Aflac: Employee retention improved from 87 percent to 94 percent.
    8. 8. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Meet Diversity Goals • Gender • Age • Disability • Culture/religion
    9. 9. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Social Responsibility • Reduces commuters • Supports families • Supports the community • Encourages ethical behavior
    10. 10. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Wrap-up • There are many reasons why flexible work is a good business decision. • Before implementing flexible work options, employers should: > Understand flexible work options (Class Two). > Determine the goals of their initiative and select the right options for their employees (Class Three).
    11. 11. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Flexible Work Options • Categories: > Alternate schedules > Reduced-hour alternatives > Telecommuting
    12. 12. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Alternate Schedules • Flextime • Flexible schedule • Compressed workweek
    13. 13. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Reduced-Hour Alternatives • Part-time work • Job sharing • Contract work • Seasonal work
    14. 14. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Telecommuting • Full-time • Partial week • On occasion
    15. 15. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Beyond Schedules • Other programs, policies and benefits can support work/life balance. • Such programs and policies build a flexible culture.
    16. 16. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Wrap-up • Before selecting the flexible work options, an employer should consider: > Employee feedback > Nature of work > Phased implementation
    17. 17. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Organizational Barriers • Corporate culture • Opposing policies • Lack of understanding by managers
    18. 18. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Planning for Flexible Work • Research to build a business case > Outside research > Determine internal goals • Involve employees > Surveys > Focus groups > Exit interview data
    19. 19. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Flexible Work Policies • Simple is better. • Ask employees to submit a written proposal. • Consider how other benefits may be affected.
    20. 20. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Resources • Management training > How to determine who can participate. > How to measure performance outcomes. • Employee support > How to write the proposal. > Coaching on how to work with flexibility. > Networking opportunities.
    21. 21. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Evaluating the Initiative • Identify any issues and make any changes to improve the program. • Justify the investment. • Build support for future programs.
    22. 22. For more on Indian HR industry, click here Wrap-up • Creative employees and employers will continue to find flexible ways to work. • Flexible work initiatives will likely become organizational “must-haves” as more employers and employees discover the benefits of flexible work.
    23. 23. Thank You! For more on Indian HR industry, click here Resource made available by SHRM US