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Sloan Center News

Flexible Options Positive for Business, Health and the Nation

06 April 2010—As the President noted at the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility last Thursday, workplace flexibility is “an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses. It affects the strength of our economy.”

How central is workplace flexibility to successful business and personal outcomes?

Through our own research, the Sloan Center on Aging & Work has linked workplace flexibility to greater employee engagement, decreased perceptions of work overload, better physical and mental health, and greater satisfaction with work-family balance. Further, workplace flexibility has incredible resonance across age groups. For example, fully 92% of those aged 27-35, 93% of those aged 43-52, and 86% of those aged 62+ said that having access to workplace flexibility contributes to their overall quality of life to a “moderate” or “great” extent, according to the 2007-2008 Age & Generations Study.

During his closing remarks, the President enumerated options such as “embracing telecommuting, flextime, compressed work weeks, job sharing, flexible start and end times, and helping … employees find quality childcare and eldercare.” Indeed, an important question for those involved in establishing flexibility policies is which flexible work options in particular are linked to positive outcomes.

According to recent (unpublished) analyses of the Age & Generations Study, better mental health was reported (after taking into account gender, full-time/part-time status and age) by those who were able to:

  • choose a work schedule that varies from the typical schedule at their worksite;
  • take paid or unpaid time for education or training to improve job skills; and
  • have input into the amount of overtime they work.

In addition, better physical health was reported by those who were able to:

  • reduce their work hours and work on a part-time basis while remaining in the same position or at the same level; and
  • phase into retirement.

For those aged 50+ specifically, better mental health was related to having access to the following options:

  • Occasionally requesting changes in starting and ending times.
  • Taking a paid leave for care giving or other personal or family responsibilities beyond that which is required by law.
  • Working for part of the year at one worksite, and then part of the year at another worksite.
  • Transferring to a job with reduced responsibilities and reduced pay, if desired.
  • Phased retirement.
  • Taking paid time off to volunteer in the community.

Lastly, being able to take paid time off to volunteer in the community was related to better physical health for those over 50.

The Center is looking forward to contributing to the continuing innovative thinking about workplace practices that can encourage business objectives while being people-friendly. In President Obama’s words, workplace flexibility “isn’t just about providing a better work experience for our employees, it’s about providing better, more efficient service for the American people.”