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Workplace Flexibility Still a Pipe Dream for Most | Human Resource Executive Online

7 April 2014—Posted by Kristen B. Frasch,

Despite all the research and rhetoric about the positives of workplace flexibility, recent data from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College shows flexible arrangements aren't being offered to most employees, and finds employers' flexible-work options are too limited in scope and type to be effective.

The study, "Explaining Organizational Variation in Flexible Work Arrangements: Why the Pattern and Scale of Availability Matter," published in the February edition of Community, Work & Family, finds while most offer some form of flexibility, few provide these arrangements to the majority of their workers.

What's more, when flexibility is made available, it's usually designed to enable employees to move their work in time or location, but not to reduce work expectations or provide temporary leaves from jobs —additional adjustments experts say are needed to fill out the entire option menu and truly meet the needs of today's more mobile, knowledge-based employees.

"The reality is that most workers in the United States have constrained choices in respect to options to reconfigure how, when, where or how much work is to be performed," the report states. Indeed, the poll of mostly chief human resource officers at 545 U.S. organizations finds only one in five companies offer more than one approach to workplace flexibility, despite the fact that different employees need different options.

"The take-home message here is 'our work isn't done,' " says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center, in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

She and her fellow authors—Stephen Sweet of Ithaca College (Ithaca, N.Y.), Elyssa Besen of the Center for Disability Research (Hopkinton, Mass.) and Lonnie Golden of Penn State Abington (Abington, Pa.) – argue that the most commonly applied standard of measuring the presence of flexible-work arrangements -- its availability to any workers in an organization -- is a far-too-lenient standard to gauge true availability.

For instance, in the research, when employers were asked if their organizations allow movable-work options to "any" employee (i.e., moving to another location or shifting hourly schedules), the poll established a mean number of 3.5 options per employer (mind you, this number includes those offering no such option as well). When researchers drilled deeper, asking if this option was available to "most or all" employees, that mean number went to .85, less than one movable option per organization.

Similar variances turn up in the numbers offering reduced work (1.70 the mean for options available to "any" versus .29 available to "most or all") and paused work, as in sabbaticals and leaves (.82 mean for "any" versus .22 for "most or all").....

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