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Sloan Center News

The Flex Factor - Workers and Companies Benefit from Job Options

What makes a great job today?

06 October 2009—Employees and employers alike agree that flexibility is an important factor. Options such as the ability to tailor one’s job schedule or telecommute in order to juggle work and personal responsibilities are a key to employees’ success on the job and their overall quality of life, according to the Age & Generations Study conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College in 2008.  This study, which surveyed 2,210 U.S. workers, looked at the extent to which age, career, and life-stage influences employees’ experiences at work.  More than 78% of respondents said that having access to flexible work options contributes to their success as employees to a “moderate” or “great extent,” and 90% reported that having access to flexible work options contributes to their overall quality of life to a “moderate” or “great extent.”

The top flexibility options that employees of all ages had access to were:

  • Occasionally requesting changes in their starting or quitting times (74.1%);
  • Controlling the timing of their breaks (72.6%);
  • Having input into the amount of overtime they work (63.3%);
  • Making choices about which shift they work (59.1%);
  • Choosing a work schedule that varies from the company’s typical schedule (58.4%);
  • Taking paid or unpaid time for education or training to improve job skills (67.5%);
  • Taking paid leave for caregiving or other personal or family responsibilities (53.5%);
  • Being allowed to transfer to a job with reduced responsibilities and reduced pay (50.2%);
  • Taking sabbaticals or career breaks and returning to a comparable job (42.9%);
  • Taking paid time off to volunteer in the community (41.0%);
  • Taking extra unpaid vacation days (40.3%); and
  • Working from an off-site location, such as home, for part or all of a regular workweek (40.7%).


Additional job-flex options available to employees included: paid leave to care for family members; job sharing; being able to take extra, unpaid vacation days for personal needs; and phasing into retirement via part-time work.

As we enter National Work & Family Month this week, it pays to note that, regardless of the number of flexible options offered, often times it is the level of “fit” that matters.  Some employees may find a better match between their needs and what is offered at their workplace, and this may depend, in part, on age- or life-stage–related factors.  Among the many groups that make up today’s multigenerational workforce, Center data suggests that the youngest workers (age 26 or younger) were the least likely to report that they have achieved this fit “to a great extent” and the oldest workers (age 62 or older) were the most likely.

All of this sounds great for employees.  So what’s the bottom line for employers in today’s tough economic times?

Offering flexible work options to employees of all age groups has the potential for improving overall workplace effectiveness—increasing productivity while building worker loyalty and reducing costly job turnover.  Among the findings of the Age & Generations Study, the Center notes that offering employee access to the flexibility needed to fulfill work and personal needs was associated with:

  • Greater employee engagement;
  • Lower perceptions of work overload;
  • Better physical health and mental health; and
  • Increased satisfaction with work-family balance.

All of these factors can point right back to a company’s profit margins.

For companies that see the benefits of flexibility but don’t yet offer flexible work options as an official employee benefit, the Sloan Center on Aging & Work recommends the following steps to get started:

  • Develop a comprehensive range of flexible work options to create the possibility for all employees to find at least one that works best for them.  If possible, meet with your employees to develop a list of options that fit your business and their needs (as the study notes, there’s no sense in offering bus drivers a telecommuting option!).
  • Make sure supervisors understand and buy into the business reasons for supporting the flex needs of your workers.  All the benefits in the world won’t bolster your balance sheets if supervisors discourage workers from using them.  (In fact, the study found that 40.6% of those surveyed felt there could be negative career consequences associated with using flex options.)
  • Meet with work teams to discuss what accommodations or workflow adjustments are needed to allow for co-workers’ flexibility.  Consider how teams can become involved in workplace flexibility rather than assume that flex arrangements are a private negotiation between a supervisor and an individual employee.
  • Send a strong message to employees that your company is not just family friendly but work-life friendly for all employees of all age groups.  Periodically remind employees of existing options and share success stories of employees who have found their own flexibility fit.