Flexibility and PTO Increase Productivity
At a time when retention of key talent is a critical issue for most organizations, a new study sheds some light on how employment policies can improve productivity, employee health and retention.
In the January 2008 issue of The Psychologist – Manager Journal, researchers at Wake Forest University (WFU) School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina discovered a link between flexibility in work practices (flexible policies, flexible schedules) and positive health related outcomes. In a study of more than 3,100 U.S. workers of a multi-national company, the researchers found that schedule flexibility, including compressed work weeks, flex time, part time options, location flexibility, and job sharing produced significantly greater commitment to work and job satisfaction among employee participants. Specifically, workers associated greater flexibility with an increased willingness to put in “extra effort” at the job. Further, interviewees reported decreased health problems or external complications impacting an employee’s work. Interestingly, this study was not able to link work policy flexibility to decreases in sickness related absences.
Regarding the finding related to sickness, one of the lead researches, Joseph Grzywacz, PhD, stated that he believed the respondents simply were not a very sick population and that in other populations there might be a correlation between flexible work policies and reduced sick absences.
The study was conducted with employees of the multi-national pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. The study gathered between 2004 and 2005. The survey asked for responses to statements such as “I have the flexibility I need to meet my work, personal, and family commitments.” It is also important to note that the employer had a policy of paid time off (PTO) as opposed to traditional vacation sick leave policies.
There is a growing recognition on the part of employers about the importance to employees of flexible policy issues in the workplace. A 2007 survey by Monster.com that 58% of workers responding to the study indicated that their employer “encourages” or “creates” a culture of working too much. The Study also indicated that a majority of respondents felt that flexible work policies helped balance this “over work” culture. Since 2007, the economy has declined in many sectors and pressure to work harder has increased – these findings provide a least one policy - related option to counterbalance the trend.
The challenge for employers, in the face of reduced staffing and higher competition for resources, is to find ways to allow an increased degree of flexibility. Often the lack of flexibility only comes to the attention of employers, particularly small employers, as a result of exit surveys. In our practice we heard a comment from a female employee (on a partnership track) at one of our accounting firm clients stating: “I would never start a family at this firm”. This was the result of tremendous frustration regarding the lack of flexible policies such as working remotely, flexible hours and even removing files from the office.
One of the researchers in the WFU study commented that one reason often cited for restricting remote work is that it is much easier for managers to work with a group that is all at the same location, at the same time. Yet, employees highly value flexibility because it gives them a control over their schedules and lives.
In our experience, adopting more flexible work policies is more of a management philosophical shift than it is a cost decision. With technology tools such as Skype, virtual private networks (VPN), and secure video conferencing such is available on Skype, and GoToMeeting, there are many inexpensive options to allow collaboration and idea sharing between disparate locations.
With increasing economic pressure, growing commute times, increased commuting costs, and other considerations from the worker’s standpoint, it is no wonder that candidates and talented workers place a high premium on flexibility. These flexible work policies send the message that the employer is willing to work with an employee to assist in the work/life balance, which is arguably one of the most important and vexing problems facing workers. The researchers of the WFU study made the following suggestions:
- Train managers and supervisors to be open and accepting of working with workers on flexibility to support the work/life balance on an individual basis.
- Use PTO verses traditional vacation and sick leave to give workers a greater sense of control and responsibility in the use of time off from work.
- Improve manager/employee communications so that workers better understand the organization’s policies, resources and the business pressures.
We would add a suggestion to reexamine policies in light of this new greater flexibility. Such is the example sited about of restricting the removal of files from an office.
The researches in this study concluded that flexibility in the workplace goes further than simply a productivity tool it is actually a stress reduction tool, a health promotion tool and perhaps most importantly an employee retention tool.