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Center Publication

Flexible Thinking & Flexible Options—Generations of Talent Study

new report examines the effects of flexible practices and flexible thinking on employee outcomes

by Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes and Tay McNamara

December 2011— In a recent report sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the Sloan Center on Aging & Work explores how flexible workplace practices combine with flexible thinking to promote positive employee outcomes. Using data collected as part of the 2011 Generations of Talent Study, the findings presented in “Flexible Thinking & Flexible Options: Effects on Work Engagement & Organizational Commitment” are based on the experiences of over 7,000 workers in 10 countries (including 6 emerging and 4 developed economies).

Flexible workplace practices, which allow employees some choice and control over aspects of their work such as scheduling (e.g., flextime) and location (e.g., remote work), are receiving increasing attention. Most of the employees described in the report (90.9 percent) say that flexibility in the workplace is “important” (i.e., somewhat important, moderately important, or very important) to them.

However, formal practices and policies might have limited effects if people do not “think” flexibly as well. Flexible thinking — a readiness to change and willingness to adapt — can shape the well-being of both individual workers and the organizations that employ them. Most employees within the Generations of Talent Study are flexible thinkers. For instance:

  • 93.8 percent agree that they “expect change and accepted it as a reality.”
  • 92.0 percent agree that they “find it easy to reorder [their] priorities when the need arises.”
  • 82.7 percent agree that their “supervisor looks at issues flexibly from many different points of view.”

Despite some age, gender, and country differences, the majority of the employees define both themselves and their supervisors as flexible thinkers.

In this sample, employees who have access to flexible practices report higher work engagement on average, as do employees who have higher levels of flexible thinking. That is, “flexible” employees are more involved, energetic, and absorbed in their work than their less flexible counterparts. Further, they have higher organizational commitment, indicating that they are psychologically attached to their organizations rather than just to their jobs.


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