Employers Are Getting More Flexible — Up to a Point (From WSJ)

Employers Are Getting More Flexible — Up to a Point

By Lauren Webber


Chances are good that your boss has gotten more understanding about those occasions when you need to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy that closes at 6 PM or work at home while waiting for your new refrigerator to be delivered.

But you won’t have as much luck when you ask for a summer sabbatical.

That’s because employers are offering more options for day-to-day flexibility, but they’re cutting back support for more substantial flex options like job-sharing or sabbaticals, according to new research from the Families and Work Institute in concert with the Society for Human Resource Management.

This trend may be the result of employers operating with leaner staffs since the recession, said Ken Matos, senior director of research at the nonprofit think tank. “They may be more reluctant to offer long leaves because they don’t have the financial margin to cover that,” he said. “And they may be using day-to-day flexibility to compensate for the extra work people are doing when you have a smaller staff.”

On every measure regarding where and when individuals work in the context of a regular daily or weekly schedule, employers are getting more flexible. Two-thirds allow at least some staffers to work at home occasionally, up from 50% in 2008, and 38% allow some workers to do so on a regular basis, up from 23%.  

But only 18% allow job-sharing, where two workers divide a job’s responsibilities between them, down from 29% in 2008.

The Institute surveyed 1,051 employers about 18 different flex-time options and considered which are becoming more and less popular. Among the 18 are such practices as gradually phasing into retirement; controlling when one can take bathroom or meal breaks; and the ability to switch shifts easily and with minimal bureaucratic involvement.

The latter two apply in particular to workers in hourly—and frequently low-wage—jobs. Workers in such positions are frequently left out of public debates about work-life balance, which tend to focus on people in higher-skilled professional careers, Matos said.

“I think there is an impending conversation about flexibility that goes beyond the two most commonly discussed situations of adjustable schedules and remote work,” he said. “Flexibility in other parts of the economy is something very different.”

The Institute also examined maternity and paternity leaves, health insurance coverage, subsidized childcare and more.

Among the sobering findings: only 2% of U.S. employers offer any kind of voucher or subsidy for childcare, down from 5% in 2008. Matos said he expects that figure to increase as the labor market gets tighter and companies have to compete for workers with unique packages of benefits.

The study, called the 2014 National Study of Employers, has been completed in 1998, 2005, 2008 and 2012, and offers a comprehensive examination of workplace policies regarding flexibility and work-life fit.

Source: Work and Families Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management


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