Why flexibility programs don’t deserve a bad reputation

by John Hilton18 Jan 2016
Workers at a Fortune 500 company who took part in flexibility training have claimed to gain higher levels of productivity and job satisfaction than employees who did not participate.

The study involved splitting the IT division of a Fortune 500 company in two, with half of them learning work practices designed to increase their sense of control of their work lives.

The goal of the study was to focus on results, as opposed to face time in the office.

The control group didn’t partake in any training and continued with the company’s regular policies.

Meanwhile, the group which was trained in flexibility techniques learned to shift their work schedules to work from home more, in addition to rethinking the number of daily meetings they went to, increasing their communication via instant messenger and learning to anticipate periods of high demand.

Additionally, managers in this group received supervisor training to encourage their support for the family/personal life and professional development of their reports.

The results clearly showed that employees who participated in the training program felt they had more support from their bosses and were more likely to say they had enough time to spend with their family.

Further, these employees reported greater job satisfaction, more productivity and were less burnt out and stressed.  

The research was conducted over 12 months by Phyllis Moen and Erin L. Kelly. Moen has the McKnight Endowed Presidential Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota, while Kelly is a Professor of Work and Organisation Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The results run in contrast with the common misconception that flexible work arrangements are a bad thing, said Kelly.

"The worker thinks, 'If I ask for special treatment, it will kill my career and I won't get promoted.' The manager thinks, 'If I give in to this employee, others will ask me too and no one will get their work done’,” said Kelly.

Moen added that their research is evidence that “workers who are allowed to have a voice in the hours and location of their work not only feel better about their jobs, but also less conflicted about their work-to-family balance”.

“Crucially, these workers are also more efficient and more productive on the job. In other words, workplace flexibility is beneficial—not detrimental—to organisations,” said Moen.

"Today's workers are bombarded by advice on how to juggle their work and family lives—we're told to take up yoga, or learn to meditate, or only check email twice a day," said Moen.

"But individual coping strategies alone won't solve the problem. Our study makes clear that organisational initiatives, including programs that promote greater flexibility and control for workers as well as greater supervisor support, are needed."