Can flexibility help both workers and employers?

Executive Summary

Policies that help employees balance the demands of work and life, once viewed as benefits bestowed largely on women by benevolent bosses, have evolved into strategies to achieve corporate goals. Studies show such policies increase both productivity and profitability and help companies hire and retain talented professionals. They are especially popular with millennials, who are pushing for greater flexibility in the workplace. While work–life programs traditionally have benefited working mothers, they also help fathers and other caregivers. Globalization and technological advances have spurred more companies to broaden their work–life policies, but putting such programs into practice can be complicated. Managers must measure work based on results or other markers instead of hours worked. And as established companies and start-ups increasingly operate via distributed or remote teams, where team members may be scattered around the world, managers must rethink how to oversee and motivate employees. Moreover, if not carefully implemented, work–life policies can lead to unequal treatment of staff or circumstances in which employees put in too many hours working from home.

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Fried, Jason, and David Heinemeier Hansson, “Remote: Office Not Required, ” Crown Business, 2013. Founders of software company Basecamp, which sells a product that allows remote team collaboration, explore why employers increasingly want to “move work to the workers” and how to accomplish it.

Friedman, Stewart D., “Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life,” Harvard Business Review Press, 2014. Based on his research and earlier books, a Wharton professor shares insights and skills on being whole and innovative in life and work, and profiles Bruce Springsteen, Michelle Obama and Sheryl Sandberg.

Kossek, Ellen Ernst, and Brenda A. Lautsch, “CEO of Me: Creating a Life That Works in the Flexible Job Age,” FT Press, 2007. Drawing on their research in work–life issues, Kossek, a Purdue management professor, and Lautsch, a Simon Fraser management professor, discuss six work–life patterns and the importance of boundaries and habits.

Williams Yost, Cali, “Work + Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You,” Riverhead, 2004. A work/life consultant with an MBA from Columbia advises individuals on how to create a vision, develop clarity, plan for child- and elder-care and overcome roadblocks.


Beauregard, T. Alexandra, “Fairness Perceptions of Work–Life Balance Initiatives: Effects on Counterproductive Work Behavior,” British Journal of Management, 2014, Assistant professor in the management department at the London School of Economics examines array of research on workers' perceptions of the fairness of work–life arrangements and the effect of those perceptions on their attitudes and behaviors.

Bernard, Tara Siegel, “For Workers, Less Flexible Companies,” The New York Times, May 19, 2014, Although companies say they offer flexible work arrangements, telecommuting and other arrangements sometimes are not available to all employees, but instead to just select professionals.

Berry, Leonard L., Ann M. Mirabito and William B. Baun, “What's the Hard Return on Employer Wellness Programs?,” Harvard Business Review, December 2010, Workplace wellness programs pay off in savings on medical claims and more, two professors and a wellness program manager write.

Schulte, Brigid, “More than a paycheck: New dads want paid leave to be caregivers,” The Washington Post, July 18, 2014, A small but growing number of companies are expanding the paid time that new fathers can take for paternity leave.

Shellenbarger, Sue, “When the Boss Works Long Hours, Must We All?” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18, 2014, Shellenbarger, who has written The Wall Street Journal's Work & Family column since 1991, explains how to work for a workaholic boss.

Stone, Brad, “Work–Life Balance and the New Night Shift,” Bloomberg Businessweek, Aug. 7, 2014, A journalist considers how and why he and so many professionals end up answering email or otherwise working at midnight.

Weber, Lauren, and Joann S. Lublin, “The Daddy Juggle: Work, Life, Family and Chaos,” The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2014, As fathers take on a growing role in raising their children, employers are slow to recognize and adapt to the change.

Reports and Studies

“The New Dad Studies,” Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2010–14, Researchers at Boston College produce a series of studies on fathers' roles, conflict and more; paternity leave, conflict and staying home are among the subjects.

“Survey on Workplace Flexibility 2013,” WorldatWork, October 2013, Employers offer between five and eight forms of flexibility, with telework and flex time the most prevalent, according to a survey of members of international human resources association.

“2014 Employee Benefits,” Society for Human Resource Management, undated, Annual survey of benefits, conducted by the largest professional association for human resources professionals, shows trends over the years.

“Workplace Flexibility Still a Myth to Most,” Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, March 17, 2014, Researchers from Boston College and elsewhere who studied 545 U.S. employers find flexible options aren't available to the majority of workers.

Harter, James K., et al., “The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes,” Gallup, February 2013, Researchers gather results of 263 research studies and conclude that “the relationship between [worker] engagement and performance at the business/work unit level is substantial.”

Matos, Kenneth, and Ellen Galinsky, “2014 National Study of Employers,” Families and Work Institute, 2014, Survey of 1,051 employers finds they maintained flexible work options during the recession, and now see such programs as crucial to worker retention.

Van Deusen, Fredric R., et al., “Overcoming the Implementation Gap: How 20 Leading Companies are Making Flexibility Work,” Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2007, Researchers present case studies from Booz Allen, Intel, KPMG and others on telework, job sharing and ways to implement flexible work arrangements.

Other Resources

Friedman, Stewart, “Work and Life,” SiriusXM radio, weekly, Friedman, a Wharton School professor, conducts interviews and moderates call-ins on a live weekly radio show on SiriusXM radio.

Marsh, Nigel, “How to make work–life balance work,” Nigel Marsh, TED Talk, May 2010, A marketer and the author of “Fat, Forty and Fired” talks about the importance of work–life balance—in moderation—and how going to the park and grabbing a pizza may make a big memory for a child.

Sagmeister, Stefan, “The Power of Time Off,” TED Talk, July 2009, New York graphic designer who believes in sabbaticals and long vacations shares innovations that came from his yearlong break in Bali. He also discusses stories of others who have taken big breaks.

Weisberg, Anne, “Book Review: All Joy and No Fun,” Families and Work Institute, Aug. 26, 2014, First in a series of monthly book reviews from the Families and Work Institute, which will post the reviews on its blog here:

The Next Step

Flexible Benefits

“How Many People Telecommute?” Global Workplace Analytics, undated, Workplace consulting firm discusses the many data sets available to measure the work-at-home population.

McGregor, Jena, “More proof that flexibility programs work,” The Washington Post, May 9, 2014, A National Institutes of Health-funded study found workers with flex time were more likely than those without such benefits to feel they had control over their schedules and enough time to spend with family.

Sveen, Lauren, “Working it out: Companies can benefit from unconventional hiring,” The Denver Post, Oct. 5, 2014, The president of a Denver employee recruitment firm writes that businesses that hire more part-time and contract workers save money and can offer employees more flexible work schedules.

Wiltz, Teresa, “Can Flextime Help Working Families Have It All?” Stateline (Pew Charitable Trusts), Sept. 30, 2014, Some states and cities are adopting laws directing employers to consider employee requests for flexible work schedules without a worker being punished or fired.

Paternity Leave

Guilford, Gwynn, “The economic case for paternity leave,” Quartz, Sept. 24. 2014, The experience of countries, including Sweden and Iceland, shows that paternity leave helps economies by reducing the pay gap between men and women.

Krawczynski, Jon, “Pro sports becoming more open to paternity leave,” The Associated Press, April 14, 2014, American professional sports leagues are offering more benefits to athletes who are new fathers, such as three days of paid paternity leave for Major League Baseball players.

Lewis, Katherine Reynolds, “New dads confront uphill battle for paternity leave,” Fortune, June 10, 2014, Employers in 70 countries are required to provide paid paternity leave, compared with just 12 percent of U.S. employers who provide that benefit, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey.

Ludden, Jennifer, “More Dads Want Paternity Leave. Getting It Is A Different Matter,” National Public Radio, Aug. 13, 2014, More men in the United States are requesting paternity leave, but only 10 to 15 percent of employers provide it, according to a University of Oregon sociologist.

Wellness Programs

Powell, Robert, “More companies offer financial wellness programs,” USA Today, Sept. 27, 2014, Programs that assist employees with managing their finances could reduce absenteeism and save companies $3 for every $1 they spend, according to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report.

Sanger-Katz, Margot, “Latest Good News in Health Spending: Employer Premiums,” The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2014, An annual survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that health insurance premiums increased by 3 percent between 2013 and 2014.

Weber, Lauren, “Wellness Programs Get a Health Check,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10, 2014, Employee wellness programs that reward workers for healthy behaviors and punish them for unhealthy ones struggle to balance concern for employee health with the potential for invading privacy and inviting lawsuits.

Workplace Attitudes

Edwards, Verity, “A Hudson survey shows social skills help drive workplace productivity,” The Australian, Sept. 19, 2014, An international survey by a recruitment group found younger employees value independence more than social interaction, while older workers value work friendships and collaboration.

Ho, Catherine, “Rise in retaliation claims reflect changing laws, attitudes about workplace bias,” The Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2014, Eight years of growing retaliation claims reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including 38,539 charges reported in 2013, indicate attitudes and laws regarding workplace discrimination are shifting.

Kratz, Greg, “Balancing act: Survey—Workers choose telecommuting to avoid office politics, interruptions,” Deseret News, Oct. 7, 2014, A 1,500-person survey found more than half of job seekers say they prefer working from home rather than their offices for important assignments, with 61 percent of respondents listing “avoiding office politics” as their main reason.


American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence
760 First St., N.E., Washington, DC 20002
Advocates for “psychologically healthy workplaces” by providing resources and giving annual awards.

Engage for Success
IPA Somerset House, West Wing 2nd Floor, Strand, London WC2R 1LA, United Kingdom
British organization that promotes the benefits of employee engagement; provides case studies and other research.

Families and Work Institute
267 Fifth Ave., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10016
Nonprofit research center that specializes in changing workplace and family needs; administers When Work Works Award.

Gallup Inc.
901 F St., N.W., #400, Washington, DC 20004
Long-established research firm that conducts surveys on well-being, work hours, worker views.

Building A, 100 Shoreline Highway, Mill Valley, CA 94941
Website where employees anonymously share view of bosses, hiring and more; also compiles lists of top 25 companies for work–life balance and for culture and values.

Human Resource Executive Online
747 Dresher Rd., Suite 500, Horsham, PA 19044-0980
Website that focuses on talent management, benefits, employee engagement.

National Alliance for Caregiving
4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 205, Bethesda, MD 20814
Coalition of organizations focused on issues and research related to family caregivers, elder care and more.

National Partnership for Women & Families
1875 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 650, Washington, DC 20009
Nonprofit that conducts research, advocacy on paid sick days, flexibility and other topics.

New Ways of Working
P.O. Box 1030, Los Gatos, CA, 05031
Business organization that shares best practices and information on workplace changes

Society for Human Resource Management
1800 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Largest professional association for human resources; provides information, research, policy and more on talent management.

World at Work and Alliance for Work–Life Progress
14040 N. Northsight Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Human resources organization that focuses on pay, rewards, engagement. Gives awards to innovators, highlights studies and more. Also read Newsline for surveys, news and other information:

Work and Family Researchers Network
c/o Patricia Miller, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 3718 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6299
Member organization for academics and others who study flexibility, work–family and related topics.

DOI: 10.1177/2374556814562185