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10 Nontraditional Flexible Workplace Practices

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Since 2003, the nonprofit I work for, Winning Workplaces, has sponsored an award honoring small businesses whose innovative employee practices drive business growth. (It used to be called Best Bosses, and now it's known as Top Small Company Workplaces.)

Every year that we have run this competition, we have seen a link between using practices designed to help employees balance their work and personal lives, and better bottom-line results. For example, our latest award cycle earlier this year -- which generated close to 350 applications from across North America -- revealed that companies that use one or more flexible work arrangements had 25% lower average turnover in 2010 compared to those that don't use any, and their average employee tenure is 43% greater.

Many of the practices these progressive small firms employ have gotten more media attention in recent years -- things like flexible shift start and end times, getting time off for community service, job sharing, summer hours and, as WFC Resources' Susan Seitel recently addressed as part of National Work and Family Month, telework.

Just as noteworthy, perhaps, is the following list of less traditional flex work practices our award-based research uncovered this year. Small business leaders, especially, can use this as a springboard to better balance keeping their workers happy, energized and most productive with managing costs.

1. Employees, at all levels, manage their own schedules and work hours to be most conducive to their personal lives, as long as these altered schedules do not impact their ability to deliver to clients or to support their coworkers.

2. With advance notice, all holidays are "floating," meaning that employees can shift or consolidate "traditional" days off such as Memorial Day or Labor Day.

3. Providing pay for traditionally unpaid leave is a great way to show a company is there for its employees, and goes a long way toward boosting commitment and retention. An Iowa-based manufacturing firm, for example, provides six weeks of paid maternity leave (the 12 weeks mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act are unpaid) as well as regular pay for bereavement and jury duty.

4. Paid sabbaticals allowing employees to pursue work-related or personal interests after a certain number of years with the company; a Colorado-based software firm, for instance, offers 6 weeks after 5 years of service.

5. Employees have the option to purchase two weeks of paid time off (PTO) every fiscal year. Additionally, donated PTO programs allow employees to donate PTO to a coworker facing a medical or other emergency.

6. This is rarer, but some companies budget so they can continue to provide much-needed salaries to workers who have exhausted their personal and vacation time due to unusual medical or other personal circumstances.

7. Forrester Research estimates that by 2016, over 40% of the total workforce will telecommute. One Virginia-based consumer services company whose workforce already telecommutes by a much greater percentage supports it in part by providing a monthly allowance for both cell phones and internet service providers (ISPs) used at home.

8. One Washington-based engineering firm engages in the growing practice of providing a fully-stocked kitchen to help busy employees maintain good nutrition - especially those working long or odd hours to complete a specific project. It keeps costs down by charging participating workers a nominal fee of $10 per week.

9. Technology companies take note: a professional services provider based in North Carolina saved the parents in its workforce a lot of time and effort by developing an iPhone app allowing them to locate and evaluate child care providers.

10. This often depends on a company's culture and physical workspace, but a number of them allow employees to bring dogs to work, and even children. More information on doing the latter successfully is available here.