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Kathleen E. Christensen Headshot

How Can You Tell If Workplace Flexibility Is Working? Ask the Employees

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WORK SUCCESS

Every clued-in business leader in America is now aware that workplace flexibility is a business imperative. Employees across all industries say their lives are increasingly complicated and the traditional workplace structure just doesn't work for them anymore. They are demanding new options, so much so that 45 percent of job seekers now say a company's ability to offer flexible schedules is even more important than salary. So it's no surprise that companies large and small have come to see options like telecommuting, job-sharing and flexible hours as one of the very best ways to attract and retain talented workers, and an important benefit to a business' bottom line.

But we also know there is a serious workplace flexibility gap. Even at companies that have official workplace flexibility programs, many employees still say they don't have access to them, either because they're not offered to everyone, or they're just not implemented very well. Like anything else in business, it turns out that workplace flexibility is easier said than done.

After 15 years of running the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's program on the Workplace, Work Force and Working Families, I've come to realize that in order to make workplace flexibility work, employers have to do more than offer innovative programs -- they have to create a culture where these programs can thrive. Putting a new program on the books is one thing, but implementing it in a way that allows every employee to utilize it is another challenge altogether.

So how can a corporate leader tell if workplace flexibility is working at their company? As Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, said at the recent Focus on Workplace Flexibility Conference, all you have to do is look at the eyes of your employees: You can tell from their eyes, she said, whether their jobs are working for them, whether they are truly engaged.

For the past seven years, the Families and Work Institute has done just that. Each year, FWI's Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility spotlights companies that are truly walking the walk on workplace flexibility. Notably, they choose their companies not by looking at press releases, publicity statements or what a C.E.O. says -- they survey employees and ask them how well their jobs fit with their lives. If employees report that flexibility programs actually allow them to meet the conflicting needs of work, life and family, that's the best indication that workplace flexibility is successful for employees, and helping build a better business, too.

Today, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) -- the world's largest association of HR professionals around the world, with more than 575 affiliated chapters -- announced it will partner with FWI to expand the awards to more companies in communities all over the country. This is great news, because it will give every business leader more examples of the many ways workplace flexibility programs can be successfully implemented.

Every good business leader wants to create an environment where their employees thrive, because they know that when people thrive, business thrives. I look forward to seeing which companies SHRM and FWI honors with these awards, so that we can all learn more about what kind of flexibility works.

You can tell the truth by looking in employees' eyes: it's not enough just to talk about workplace flexibility -- we have to make it work.