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Nanette Fondas's picture

Flex time, job-sharing, compressed schedules, and telecommuting: these workplace practices are needed now more than ever as we juggle the demands of work and other life commitments in a global, 24/7 economy. Women sometimes need flexible work options particularly to make the pieces of their work-life puzzle fit together -- today women make up half the paid labor force and 80 percent of them will become mothers by the time they reach age 44. But workplace flexibility is a salient issue for all people -- not just women, and not just mothers. In a 2008 Study of the Changing Workforce, fathers reported more work-life conflict than ever before. A whopping 59 percent said they experienced some or a lot of conflict; in 1977, only 35 percent did. Young people, older employees, parents and non-parents all need some flexibility in when, where, and how they work.

So it was especially disturbing to learn from a new study by the Society for Human Resource Management that the number of employers offering flextime declined in 2010 to 49 percent (from 57 percent in 2006), most likely as a result of the recession.

In my new book, The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, my co-author Joan Blades and I ask whether the benefits of offering workplace flexibility outweigh the costs. We learned that businesses that eliminate flexible work options for employees (or fail to offer them), would be wise to first stop and consider that:

One of every three workers say being able to flexibly balance work and life is the most important factor in choosing a job.

Workers of all ages and ranks -- even executives in Fortune 500 Companies -- say they want more flexibility and will forgo pay for it.

Low wage workers are 30% less likely to quit their jobs within two years if they have some flexibility.

Hundreds of psychologists and social psychologists have extensively documented the payoffs of employee-friendly benefits and policies. What they've seen is that when employers help employees balance their life and work commitments, when people are trusted and empowered to do their jobs, they are more satisfied, engaged, motivated, and loyal. These human feelings lead people to work harder and exceed expectations. This lowers turnover, absenteeism, recruiting, and training costs. Costs down, productivity up. The net effect? A boost to the bottom line.

The key is to recognize that all employees are an asset, not a liability, and that the net effect of flex increases the return on that asset. Even in a recession.

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