Flexible Work: Is It Lip Service From Employers?
A pro's tips on how to work when and where you want
When you pass the 50 birthday milestone, it’s natural to start thinking about the next phase of life, including how work will fit into your other goals and responsibilities. The appeal of working more flexibly may begin to grow.
You might wonder: “Instead of enduring a two-hour, round-trip commute every day, maybe I could I work from home two days a week and devote a portion of the 10 hours I save to volunteer work.” Or: “Rather than retiring completely, perhaps I could reduce my schedule and continue to contribute at work.”
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The possibilities for flexible work are endless, but are they realistic?
Good and Bad News About Flexwork
Two recent studies — The 2014 National Study of Employers from the Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resource Management and one by my Flex & Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit consulting firm — paint a good news/bad news picture that, at first glance, could be discouraging.
But dig deeper into the findings (my study is a sample of full-time workers, conducted with ORC International, on what employees are experiencing regarding work/life flexibility) and you may find a path to meet your needs as well as the expectations of your employer.
Let’s look at the good and bad news:
The good news: My survey found that 97 percent of full-time workers said they had some form of work/life flexibility in 2013 and 23 percent said their level of flexibility increased from 2012.
In addition, 81 percent of firms surveyed for the National Study of Employers said they allow employees to periodically change their starting and quitting time and 74 percent supported employees who want to work from home occasionally.
(MORE: The Good News About Elder Care Benefits)
Now, the bad news: Even though almost all employees said they had some form of work/life flexibility, nearly half (45 percent) perceived that their employer’s commitment to that flexibility could be waning, although only 20 percent said they actually saw evidence their company had reduced its support.
The employers’ study found some types of flexwork support have subsided.
Compared to 2008, fewer employers offered: job sharing (down from 29 percent to 18 percent in 2014); the ability to work only part of the year (which dropped from 27 percent to 18 percent) and sabbaticals (from 38 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2014).
And although most full-time workers in my survey said they had some form of work/life flexibility, 57 percent did not receive training or guidance on how to manage it well. They’re flying by the seat of their pants.
Given this lack of know-how, it wasn’t surprising that 62 percent of employees with work/life flexibility said they weren’t able to use or improve it.
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The top obstacles they cited: increased workload/lack of time and concerns that they might make less money, lose their job or hurt their career or that others will think they don’t work hard.
Pockets of Pullback, But Opportunity Remains
It’s true: pockets of actual flexible work pullback are happening. But those reductions are limited to the most extreme forms of work flexibility; the ones that can be the trickiest to manage.
Put another way: There is still tremendous untapped opportunity for flexible work if you arrange to do it the right way.
As you chart the next phase of your life and career, you can thoughtfully and deliberately leverage work/life flexibility for personal and professional success… as long as you have high-quality, comprehensive training for it. However, most of us don’t.
If your employer doesn’t offer support or training on how to harness the day-to-day and formal work flexibility that meet your needs and the expectations of your job, educate yourself.
First, learn how to flexibly manage what I call your everyday work+life fit. This may include arranging with your employer to let you periodically shift your hours or work remotely when you need to do so.
These types of things can help you address meaningful, everyday priorities, or “tweaks” — both at work and in your personal life. I provide examples of simple weekly how-to’s in my book, Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, and at the companion website, Tweakittogether.com.
Taking the Initiative Yourself
But what if you want to make a more official, formal change in how, when or where you work — such as always working from home a couple of days a week or reducing your schedule?
In that case, learn how to create, propose and implement a flexible work plan that carefully meets your goals given the realities of your job.
With the current state of work/life flexibility, the opportunities outweigh the challenges. But don’t wait for your employer to give you the tools and skills you need for flexible work success.
Take matters into your own hands so you can be your best, on and off the job.