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Smart employers are using flexible work options to manage through the recession—and help their employees manage. The organization I head, the Families and Work Institute, highlights 260 award-winning employers across the US using innovative approaches and practices including:

• Giving employees four Fridays off in the summer in lieu of raises the organization cannot afford
• Allowing employees to work at home 1-2 days a week to save on commuting costs
• Giving employees the option to take unlimited, unpaid personal time off during the downturn, while keeping full medical benefits and the right to return to their jobs
• Allowing employees greater scheduling flexibility if their spouse has lost a job or seen their hours reduced and the family needs to make changes
• Reassigning responsibilities when no hiring is possible
• Offering employees reduced hours or additional unpaid days off to avoid layoffs

We hope recognizing the policies of these employers inspires action and innovation elsewhere. We hope it will give you ideas for increasing workplace flexibility, whether you are employer or employee. Indeed, a new study from Families and Work Institute finds that 94% of U.S. employers are maintaining or increasing the flexible work options they offer, even in these hard times.

All of the employers I discuss here are 2008 winners of The Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility. To qualify as a winner, employers self nominate and if they are in the top 20% of employers nationally (based on our National Study of Employers), they give their employees a survey. Two-thirds of the winning score comes from employees so we know these employers are the real deal.

For example, Microchip Technology, with 1,485 employees, is the only semiconductor company that hasn’t made a layoff in more than five years. It looked for and found other ways to cut costs, including pay cuts and shutdowns for salaried employees and rotational shutdowns for factory workers. The company-wide shutdown was scheduled to coincide with spring break for the largest number of employees’ school-aged children while others were given the option to schedule other weeks for their shutdowns. Factory employees were able to use vacation time and personal time in lieu of full reduction of their rotational schedules. And all employees were given the option to take unlimited, unpaid personal time during the downturn, while keeping full medical benefits and the right to return to their jobs.

Three-time Sloan Award winner KPMG LLP, an audit, tax, and advisory service firm has created a shared leave program. Employees with serious illnesses or other emergencies can receive up to 12 weeks of additional paid personal from other employees who donate their unused time off. The company reports that fully 100% of needs for donated time are met by KPMG employees, usually within minutes of an employee making an anonymous request.

It’s not about perks. Employees who have a high work-life fit fare much better than employees who have moderate or low levels of work-life fit. They are more highly engaged and less likely to look for a new job in the next year, and they enjoy better overall health, better mental health, and lower levels of stress.

If you want to assess your own “work-life fit” here are five reliable measures:

- I have the schedule flexibility I need to successfully manage my work and family life.
- My work schedule/shift meets my needs.
-I have the co-worker support I need to successfully manage my work and family life.
- My supervisor cares about the effect of work on my personal/family life.
- My supervisor is responsive when I have personal/family business.

What do your answers tell you about your work life fit?

Click here for examples of employers’ winning ideas. These examples are just a sampling of the 260 employers featured in the 2009 Bold Ideas Guide. To download the Guide or to request a printed copy, please email us at

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