What happens if you offer your staff true flexibility at work? – Rose Stanley, Work-life practice leader

“If a truly embedded culture of flexibility existed in organizations, many of the day-to-day stressors that employees have to deal with, both personal and work-related would fall away. The ability for them to focus and be productive would take centre stage.”

I’ll never forget this quote from a former colleague during a conversation we were having about the effectiveness of work-life offerings. It’s a pretty powerful statement, and it makes sense – on the surface. But what are we really talking about?

Sure, “workplace flexibility” is a great phrase to print in recruitment brochures and add to the elevator speech when talking to employment candidates. But does it really have an effect? A growing body of research indicates that, yes, the concept and execution of workplace flexibility does have benefits beyond being an eye-catching draw for talent.

In the past few years, it’s become apparent that workplace flexibility positively contributes to lifestyle behaviors as well as participation in work-site health-promotion programs (those programs that employers are spending dollars on). In their longitudinal analysis, Grzywacz, Casey and Jones found that, of the health behaviors studied (with the exception of regular attendance in health-education seminars), each one was positively tied to perceived flexibility in the workplace.

In addition, sleep and self-appraised lifestyle were significantly related to changes in perceived flexibility among employees over time. (Workplace flexibility even works when employees are sleeping!) Another two recent studies corroborated these positive effects on sleep, and went even further to report that employees who have the flexibility they need are more likely to visit a doctor when they’re sick, exercise more frequently, have more energy, are sick less often and are less likely to say that health problems affect their job performance.

Beyond just the programs being offered, workplace flexibility is growing to the point of becoming a cultural piece of an organization’s fabric. Consider: On average, six workplace flexibility programs exist across organizations, according to WorldatWork’s “Survey on Workplace Flexibility”.

And the reasons behind organizations’ decision to offer them are as varied as the programs themselves: a growing global workforce that requires the ability to connect with team members around the globe; a response to a natural disaster that disrupts the scheduled workday; and a multi-generational workforce that expects, with more regularity, the ability to work anywhere, anytime as long as the work gets done.

While these certainly are legitimate (and likely necessary) reasons for employers to offer these programs, it’s important to recognize that organizations do benefit from them. In this year’s “Total Rewards and Well-Being Survey”, respondents that have built a culture of flexibility into their way of doing business have reaped multiple rewards, including improved productivity, engagement and employee satisfaction; and decreased absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover. Moreover, flexible schedules ranked third among the most-used well-being programs by employees (just behind health-risk assessments and workplace safety programs).

Simply put, workplace flexibility seems like an easy win-win for both organizations and employers. But it’s got to be more than an elevator speech or a couple of words in a brochure. It must be truly embedded within an organization, and that’s when the positive outcomes start rolling in – for everyone.

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