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Can Flexibility Still Work in the Current Economy?
Submitted by caseyju on November 18, 2008 - 10:00
By Jacquelyn James, Research Director, and Jennifer Fraone, Assistant Director, Marketing and NEWFA, Boston College Center for Work & Family. Please note that the views of our guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network.
At the Boston College Center for Work & Family (CWF), we are increasingly faced with the question: How can organizations promote flexibility in the current economic turmoil?
With people worried about the value of their 401K's and job security, will fewer people request flexible work arrangements (FWAs)? Will FWAs be a lower priority for employers? Or worse, will workplaces abandon FWAs as impractical in periods of economic stress? We may face an uphill climb in our efforts to implement new flexibility practices in this economy.
On the other hand, at CWF we work with companies who view flexible work arrangements not just as a “perk” or benefit for their employees, but as a strategic business imperative. Some organizations use flexibility as a way to cut costs (e.g., the state of Utah is experimenting with compressed work-weeks to decrease energy costs; Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA has an e-working program that reduces real estate costs; Chubb Insurance has seen decreases in costly overtime due to schedule flexibility). Some also see flexible work arrangements as a low cost way to increase productivity, and research supports this assumption. See, for example, Clifton & Shepard (2004), who demonstrate that more “family friendly” organizations have greater productivity.
Progressive organizations still see flexibility as a strategy to recruit and retain the best talent. While there might be fewer jobs and more applicants, this does not mean that it is easy or less costly to manage turnover. Many industries have trouble filling highly skilled positions, and when they are able to find the right person for the role, the availability of FWAs just might be a way to keep them from leaving for competing organizations.
We review examples of progressive organizations in Overcoming the Implementation Gap: How 20 Leading Companies are Making Flexibility Work. We believe that the availability of FWAs will continue as a strategic approach to engaging a productive, effective and loyal workforce as well as a way to decrease costs. Please contact us if you would be interested in learning more about our work: firstname.lastname@example.org.