flexible workEarlier this month I looked at some things that all logical evidence suggests should be staple elements of the modern workplace.  All of them have been shown to boost productivity, whether it’s allowing employees to have a nap at work, or ensuring they take some exercise.  Despite the evidence however, they haven’t taken off.

Sadly, flexible work still seems stuck in this camp.  There is no end of evidence to show that flexible workers are happier, more productive and generally better employees.  What’s more, the technology certainly exists to make working from home both feasible and effective.

Yet, despite all of this, a new report published by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College reveals that flexible working is largely out of reach for most employees.

“While large percentages of employers report that they have at least some workplace flexibility, the number of options is usually limited and they are typically not available to the entire workforce,” says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Ph.D., Director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College and one of the researchers of the study. “We’re trying to help employers understand that flexible work initiatives work best if their organizations offer a comprehensive set of options. Employers who implement limited programs might become frustrated if they don’t see the outcomes they had hoped for saying, ‘Gosh, this didn’t help us at all’ or, ‘it didn’t help us with recruitment’ or ‘it didn’t help us with retention.’ In fact, it may not be that the flexible work options didn’t work. Rather, that the companies didn’t offer a sufficient range of options to the employees.”

The study pored over the flexible working arrangements in nearly 550 American companies to get to the bottom of what was happening.  They found that by far the most popular means of flexible working involved allowing employees to move either the location they worked from or the hours they worked.  Very few offered temporary reduction in hours or leave.  What’s more, the flexibility that was on offer, was not offered to the entire workforce.

“We should probably set our standards and expectations a little higher,” says Dr. Pitt-Catsouphes. “Business leaders as well as academics have been trying to promote the adoption of quality flexible work initiatives for the past three decades. We have come to realize how important it is for employers to offer different types of flexibilities so that employees and their supervisors have some choice and control over when, where and how much they work. Employers and employees are better able to reap the benefits of workplace flexibility when the initiatives are comprehensive and well aligned with business priorities.”

The report found that most employers were taking a rather simplistic approach to flexible working.  Despite employees having different requirements, there was typically just one form of flexibility offered.  The report went on to suggest that this might be because employers weren’t really committed to making flexible working work.