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Making the Business Case

Making the Business Case

The Business Case for Workplace Flexibility

Flexibility is fast becoming a must for organizations that want to remain competitive. But it may mean a different style of managing for many, and change is never easy. The following facts may help to convince any who are slow to accept it.

Out of all the factors that make the need for workplace flexibility critical, two emerge as key:

  • The first: The worldwide workforce is aging, and in most countries there are not enough workers to replace them. The total working age population (15-64 years) in European Union member countries will fall by 20.8 million between 2005 and 2030. Companies want and need skilled workers, and skilled workers – especially younger ones – want and need the flexibility that will allow them to care for their families and live full lives.
  • The second: The U.S. workforce is growing more diverse. A “one-size-fits-all strategy” no longer fits us all, and many people no longer do their best work in a 9 to 5 office environment.

That said, there are at least six business reasons to create a more flexible, supportive work environment:

1. Attract and retain talented people

Financial leaders surveyed for the 2011 Robert Half Global Financial Employment Monitor reported difficulties finding skilled staff and growing concern about their ability to hold on to their best employees.

Fifty-six percent of financial leaders said they are at least somewhat concerned about retaining their staff in the coming year, up from 45 percent in 2010.  Silicon.com reported that 85 percent of IT directors surveyed by ReThink Recruitment are concerned about skilled workers jumping ship in the coming year. And PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Annual Global CEO Survey found83 percent of Canadian CEOs saying they expect that over the next three years finding job candidates with the right skills will be a key challenge.

2. Raise morale and increase job satisfaction

Of the nearly 500 companies polled by WorldatWork in 2011, 72 percent reported a positive or extremely positive effect of these programs on employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction.

The higher an organization rates itself on flexibility offerings, policies and impacts, the lower the organization’s voluntary turnover rate and the greater the morale and satisfaction, according to the Survey on Workplace Flexibility released by WorldatWork.

3. Increase productivity and improve business results

Countless studies confirm the link between workplace flexibility – particularly telecommuting – and productivity.  Brigham Young researchers found that “Offering flexibility translated to anywhere from eight to 13 hours more a week of productivity per employee without adding stress.”

“Managers who avoid excessive workload, distribute work fairly, allow flexible scheduling and are considerate of employees’ lives will bring increased revenue, said a study of 50,000 U.S. workers by International Survey Research.

4. Make people more engaged

Companies with the highest employee engagement levels have nearly triple the total shareholder return when compared with those that have lower levels, said a Hewitt & Associates study, and another by the Conference Board reported that “Sufficient control over how the work is done is one of the qualities that topped the list of drivers of engagement.”

Kathleen Christensen, who launched the Sloan Foundation’s National Workplace Flexibility Initiative, sponsored major research on the business outcomes of workplace flexibility. In one study of multiple large US corporations, she found that flexible work arrangements had positive outcomes on engagement as well as financial performance, better cycle time and client service. Employees who had even a small degree of flexibility in when and where work got done had significantly greater job satisfaction, stronger commitment to the job, and higher levels of engagement with the company, as well as significantly lower levels of stress.

5. Cut health care costs

Several studies have found that employees who were experiencing job stress were twice as likely to die from heart disease. And EverydayHealth.com, a leading provider of online health information, reports that people who feel like they have no control at work are most likely to get stress-related illnesses.

The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health agrees. Their studies found the worst stress-causing culprit was lack of control over the job when combined with a high level of demand. Jobs with high demand and low control, they say, can lead to more than double the rate of heart and cardiovascular problems, significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, and demoralization. High demand and low control jobs also lead to significantly higher alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drug use, and a significantly higher susceptibility to infectious diseases—which in turn lead to increased disability claims.

An earlier study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that stress caused by problems at work was the greatest threat to workers’ health. What reduces stress? Managers who care about employees as people and let them know it, said the report, work redesign, autonomy, flexibility and control over the work.

6. Attract investors

Where morale is higher, stock price grows faster, says a study by Sirota Survey Intelligence. And a study by Purdue researcher James Oakley of 5,500 employees from 100 organizations showed a direct link between employee satisfaction and a company’s profits.

A Texas University study found profits went up when supervisors were given people skills, and taught to worry about employee morale. And The Great Place to Work Institute reported that its “Best Companies to Work For” produced four times the gains when compared to two other indexes of the broad market.

The payoff for managers

What’s in it for managers and supervisors to have a more flexible, supportive work environment? Here’s just a sampling of what the last decade of research has produced:

Work-life conflicts are reduced. Employees working in a supportive, flexible work environment experienced fewer conflicts between work and family and were equally productive. (Professors Stewart Friedman and Jeffrey Greenhaus, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania)

Stress levels go down. When employers put more emphasis on job control, working smart and granting all employees access to flexible work programs, stress levels are reduced. (Study by Catalyst)

 More than three-fourths of the 1,755 parents surveyed said the flexibility to arrive at work later, leave earlier, or take off part of a workday when necessary would greatly reduce their stress levels. (Study by Brandeis University)

Productivity increases. “In 90% of cases we are finding that those who work flexibly generate a greater output.” (UK recruiting firm Ellis Fairbank)

Satisfaction, commitment and engagement increase. “Even a small measure of flexibility produced significantly greater job satisfaction, stronger commitment and higher levels of engagement.” (Study commissioned by Corporate Voices for Working Families)

Did we make the case? If not – if you still don’t believe there’s a strong business case for workplace flexibility – just Google the term “benefits of workplace flexibility.” But you’d better set aside some time; you’ll find 2,370,000 results.

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