Workplace flexibility still a myth for most

March 18, 2014

Workplace flexibility – it's a phrase that might be appealing to job seekers or make a company look good, but a new study by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College shows flexible work options are out of reach for most employees and that when they are offered, arrangements are limited in size and scope.

"While large percentages of employers report that they have at least some workplace flexibility, the number of options is usually limited and they are typically not available to the entire workforce," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Ph.D., Director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College and one of the researchers of the study. "We're trying to help employers understand that flexible work initiatives work best if their organizations offer a comprehensive set of options. Employers who implement limited programs might become frustrated if they don't see the outcomes they had hoped for saying, 'Gosh, this didn't help us at all' or, 'it didn't help us with recruitment' or 'it didn't help us with retention.' In fact, it may not be that the flexible work options didn't work. Rather, that the companies didn't offer a sufficient range of options to the employees."

The study, published in the journal, Community, Work, and Family, examined the flexible work arrangements of 545 U.S. employers and found most arrangements center around allowing employees to move where they work and when they report in, but didn't include reduction of work or temporary leaves from jobs. Additionally, any flexibility options that are available aren't being made to the majority of a company's employees.

"We should probably set our standards and expectations a little higher," says Dr. Pitt-Catsouphes. "Business leaders as well as academics have been trying to promote the adoption of quality initiatives for the past three decades. We have come to realize how important it is for employers to offer different types of flexibilities so that employees and their supervisors have some choice and control over when, where and how much they work. Employers and employees are better able to reap the benefits of workplace flexibility when the initiatives are comprehensive and well aligned with business priorities."

The study, co-authored by Stephen Sweet of Ithaca College, Elyssa Besen of the Center for Disability Research, Lonnie Golden of Penn State Abington along with Boston College's Pitt-Catsouphes, found only one in five companies offered more than one approach to workplace flexibility, despite the fact that different employees need different options.

"What we're saying is flexibility can work if you make a commitment to making it work," says Pitt-Catsouphes. "Workplace flexibility is important to employees across the life course and can support the productive engagement of older as well as younger workers. In today's business environment, organizations need to be adaptive and nimble. Flexible work options offer tools that can help companies remain competitive."

Explore further: Study: Businesses Unprepared for Aging Workforce

Related Stories

Get some balance - make flexible work policies work

January 21, 2009

( -- Most organisations' flexible work policies sit idly in policy documents, employees too uncomfortable to implement them because they might be frowned upon by employers or co-workers for deviating from the ...

Workers more satisfied, productive with flexible hours

November 14, 2011

( -- Employers can expect higher worker satisfaction and production if the company offers flexible hours that allow employees to handle crises and short-term family commitments, a new University of Michigan study ...

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.