On paper, workplace flexibility sounds great. It’s known to increase retention, boost career aspirations and productivity, and decrease absenteeism—all benefits to both the employee and the employer. These advantages are also probably why over 80% of companies offer some kind of flexible work arrangement.
Interestingly enough, less than 30% of employees report working flexibly on a formal or informal basis, despite the associated benefits. Research by Joan Williams, Mary Blair-Loy, and Jennifer Berdahl suggests that in some flexible workplaces, employees fear negative career repercussions. And as the researchers point out, these “fears appear to be well founded: the use of flexibility policies has been shown to result in wage penalties, lower performance evaluations, and fewer promotions.”
With those kinds of stakes, why would anyone choose to work flexibly?
When work flexibility is successful, it’s because business leaders and organizations encourage employees to work in ways that allow them to perform at their best while managing the life situations that inevitably crop up. And when flexibility is the culture’s norm for all rather than an accommodation for some, the benefits are clear, such as helping to attract and retain top talent.
Catalyst, the leading nonprofit organization with a vision to change workplaces and change lives, has been championing its work-life effectiveness tool for business performance since 2008. But Catalyst also “walks the talk” to offer its own employees flexible work schedules. Almost one-half of the organization’s workforce is virtual, and all full-time employees work a compressed workweek with half-day, work-from-home Fridays. This type of flexibility allows employees to do their jobs, no matter where or when they happen to be working.
To be clear, creating a flexible culture isn’t always easy and pain points are sure to come along the way, but those moments can be used as opportunities to discover what works and what does not. To learn more about how Catalyst shifted from a culture of face time to one that highly prioritizes flexibility in all forms, we encourage you to read our new Supporter-exclusive Practice Snapshot.
Editor’s note: We’d love to hear from you: does flexibility support your ability to be productive and meet life demands? Let us know in the comments!