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Sloan Center News

Flexibility Honored With Presidential Commitment

12 April 2010—For those of us involved in championing workplace flexibility, March 31, 2010 was a day we will long remember.

Amidst jubilation, laughter, and applause, President Barack Obama, at a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility last Thursday, asserted that companies with flexible work arrangements can actually have lower turnover and absenteeism, higher productivity, and healthier workers.

This event represented enormous progress in the efforts of researchers, practitioners, and organizations like the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to position workplace flexibility as a compelling national issue.

In 2003, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation launched the National Workplace Flexibility Initiative a collaborative effort designed to make workplace flexibility the standard of the American workplace. Led by Kathy Christensen, Program Director of Workplace, Work Force and Working Families, this National Workplace Flexibility Initiative has supported several projects and centers, including the Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

Since the Center’s founding in 2005, we have promoted workplace flexibility as a key component of quality employment. Thus, it was profoundly validating to be invited by the President and First Lady to discuss advancing this critical workplace issue into part of a national conversation. The forum was an historic event. Such high-level recognition of the need to continue to expand workplace flexibility will pave the way for future courses of action, recalls Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Director of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

The forum emphasized the integration of years of convincing research, innovative business practices, and policy efforts to create work environments where employees of all ages and career stages can thrive.

At the forum, much of the conversation about workplace flexibility focused on its importance to women who are still pioneering the delicate balance between home life responsibilities and work demands. Like the President, though, the Center has long recognized that workplace flexibility is not just a womens issue; flexibility is an important aspect of job quality for men and for workers across the age spectrum. We have also found that workplace flexibility makes a big difference in the lives of hourly workers those employees least likely to have flexible options available.

Specifically, Sloan Center on Aging & Work studies have shown that older and younger workers, men and women alike, who are satisfied with their work schedules and have the flexibility they need for personal pursuits, are more engaged in their work than those who are dissatisfied. Further, in a study of hourly paid workers we found that there are creative ways to provide flexibility such as allowing workers to schedule swap, to provide input about availability prior to the development of schedules, and to ask for backup in an emergency.

At the Center, we recognize workplace flexibility as an important talent management strategy because we have found that a culture of flexibility facilitates employee engagement. Flexibility for employees is good for business, working families, and their communities and, therefore, is an essential component of quality employment for the 21st century, multi-generational workforce.

The White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility puts the decades long campaign for job quality into the context of renewed hope.

All of us regardless of age can celebrate this event.