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Workplace Flexibility—Issue Brief

by Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Christina Matz-Costa, and Elyssa Besen

January 2009—A research study released by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College reveals that workplace flexibility is seen as a key ingredient in business success. The study, Workplace Flexiblity: Findings from the Age & Generations Study, finds that nearly 65% of individuals across generations agreed that their work team links workplace flexibility with overall business effectiveness to a “moderate/great extent.”

In the current economic climate, businesses are increasingly linking workplace flexibility with overall business success. And flexibility options are becoming a key strategy for reducing business expenditures.

Yet 41.4% of the employees who responded to the Age & Generations Study reported that they do not have access to the flexible work options they need to fulfill their work and personal needs “at all” or only “to a limited extent.”

“One of the central issues for employees right now,” says Pitt-Catsouphes, “is the freedom to choose how, when and where you work. But the economic crisis is throwing a lot of business assumptions up in the air for reexamination.”

For employees, flexibility matters. But what matters more is how these options “fit.” Employees who have flexible options that fit their needs show higher engagement, higher physical and mental health, and higher satisfaction with work-family balance.

Overall, the Sloan Center's research shows that regardless of age or generation, employees see workplace flexibility as an integral part of their overall quality of life and as a key contributor to their success as employees.

Specifically, the research shows that the top five flexible work options available to and used by respondents include flexibility with regards to: 1) taking breaks, 2) taking time off, 3) scheduling shifts, 4) the location of work (telecommuting vs. working in office), 5) and modifying starting/quitting times.

Employers want positive returns on investments, especially in tough economic times. Workplace flexibility is a major factor in business success, and a key cost-effective component of employee well-being. Nonetheless, the “fit” isn’t being made. This study provides convincing evidence that the “fit” must be made.

The Age & Generations Study was launched in the fall of 2007. Data were collected from over 2,000 employees at 12 worksites within nine organizations across the country to help organizations gain a better understanding of the ways employees of different generations (Millenials/Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers and Traditionalists) work together in order to develop more effective strategies for managing multi-generational teams.

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