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8 flex trends that will affect your company


Businesses are getting better at balancing their demand for longer hours and higher productivity with flexibility for employees to choose when and where they work.

As more organizations allow em­­ployees to adjust their schedules and telework, it puts pressure on other employers to offer the same flexibility—or lose out when it comes to recruiting and retaining quality workers.

Those are among the findings of the 2012 National Study of Employers from the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management.

The survey of more than 1,000 em­­ployers, conducted for the third time since 2005, shows companies are more likely today than seven years ago to allow employees to choose their start and stop times, work from home or other alternative locations and take time off during the workday to tend to personal business as long as they make up the hours later.

Here are eight trends identified by the study. How will they influence your organization?

1. Flextime and telework are the new normal. Employees expect to have access to them. Ellen Galinsky, president of the New York-based Fami­­lies and Work Institute, notes that while not every business allows flex, “we’re moving in that direction.”

Tip: If your organization’s execs still insist on eight consecutive hours of face time each day from every employee, you’re probably already losing young hires, new moms and mature employees. They’re going to competitors offering more flexibility. Make flex central to your recruiting and retaining effort.

2. Part-time work and extended career breaks have lost favor. Com­­pared to findings from 2005, fewer bosses now are allowing reduced work weeks or paid and unpaid sabbaticals. They’re less inclined to welcome back employees who take lengthy career breaks for personal reasons.

The study does show a slight increase in the number of employers allowing at least some employees to phase into retirement.

Tip: Determine which employees are most important to retain. Many experienced, older employees highly value part-time work, assignments that last only part of the year and flexible options once they near retirement.

3. FMLA compliance is hit-or-miss. The law requires any organization that employs more than 50 people within 75 miles of its work sites to grant 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for child­­birth, adoption, foster-care placement, a serious medical condition or to care for a seriously ill child or spouse to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours the prior year.

The study found that about a quarter of employers don’t comply with the FMLA.

Tip: Remember, the law applies to everyone—not just moms. Many em­­ployers don’t extend FMLA leave to men with new babies.

4. Less-expensive child-care assistance is on the rise, replacing employer-subsidized on- or near-site child care. Dependent Care Assistance Plans (DCAPs) and child care resource and referral are among today’s employer-favored benefits.

Large employers are far more likely to offer any type of child care assistance than small companies.

Tip: Even many small companies can swing DCAPs—flexible fund plans that help employees pay for child care with pretax dollars. Resource and referral services, which give working parents access to information to help find good care in the community, are also very inexpensive.

5. Elder-care leave and assistance is catching up with child care as a popular work/life benefit. More than 40% of employers in the survey provide information about elder-care services, offer resource and referral programs or offer DCAPs for elder care.

Others grant time off for elder-care duties. A handful even pay for respite care to give the care­­givers a break.

Tip: Determine how many employees at your organization are in their late 40s or older. They’ll soon have to deal with elder-care issues as their parents age.

6. More employees are turning to EAPs for help with personal problems. Almost three-quarters of employers have employee assistance programs, up from 46% in 2005.

Tip: If an EAP is too expensive for your organization, organize workshops or brown-bag lunches on parenting, elder care and other work/life issues. Connect employees with similar at-home challenges so they can help each other.

7. More employers value volunteerism. About 20% give employees time off to volunteer, and more than 80% of those make that paid leave.

Tip: Volunteering is important to both your youngest employees and to baby boomers. Even if you can’t afford to offer paid time off for volunteering, you can support employee causes by arranging volunteer opportunities for workers to participate in as a group on weekends or by encouraging staff members to organize brown-bag lunches featuring speakers from local charities.

8. Employers are adopting new metrics. They’re more willing to measure employees’ value by what they accomplish, not the hours they put in.

Tip: Tie supervisors’ pay and rewards to their support of flexible work arrangements. Encourage them to work out flexible schedules with employees, keep employees informed about work/life assistance options and treat workers who opt for flex just as they do employees who choose more traditional work arrangements.

Kid-care options make flex work

Even a little bit of help from employers can make a big difference for working parents who need affordable, quality child care. Here are a few ways businesses can offer child-care assistance:

  • Sponsor a dependent-care assistance flex-fund plan that helps parents pay for child care with pretax dollars.
  • Provide access to a child-care re­­source and referral service, to help parents locate local child care.
  • Subsidize fees (or offer vouchers) for child-care services near your work sites.
  • Offer short-term child care for children during school breaks.
  • Identify day-care providers who can look after employee’s kids when they are mildly ill.

Source: Families and Work Institute/Society for Human Resource Management 2012 National Study of Employers