Study: Workplace Flexibility is As Good As Gold

Balancing a busy professional and an equally amplified personal life is a challenge a lot of us face. Just how does one work eight hours a day, commute for another one to two hours, then have enough gas in the tank to be an awesome person at home? There isn’t an easy answer to that, thus many workers grin and bear it, as certain companies choose to keep old school rules intact for all employees. However, companies should consider the benefits of offering its workers more of a flexible environment.

During a 12-month U.S. study, an unnamed Fortune 500 company was split into two groups: one that did business the usual way and one that worked in an environment that promoted a better work and personal life balance, yet still aimed for productivity.

To make this happen, staffers were able to shift their hours; work from home when it made sense and use modern technology to stay reachable when taking care of business remotely. Employees were also trained on how to be better prepared for peak business seasons.

As a way to make sure everyone on this side of the study remained on the same side, managers were trained to encourage and support employees’ attempts to balance work and personal lives.

This exercise revealed that those in the second group felt more in control over their schedules and had more time to spend with loved ones. These employees also credited this professional shift with decreasing psychological distress and burnout. Perhaps most importantly, these folks felt more satisfied in the workplace.

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“The worker thinks, ‘If I ask for special treatment, it will kill my career and I won’t get promoted.’ The manager thinks, ‘If I give in to this employee, others will ask me too and no one will get their work done,’” says one of the study’s researchers, Professor Erin L. Kelly. “Even many academics take a skeptical view of flex programs and see them as a way for Corporate America to take advantage of workers.”

Adds fellow researcher Phyllis Moen of the University of Minnesota: “Our research demonstrates that workers who are allowed to have a voice in the hours and location of their work not only feel better about their jobs, but also less conflicted about their work-to-family balance. Crucially, these workers are also more efficient and more productive on the job. In other words, workplace flexibility is beneficial – not detrimental – to organizations.”

Of course, every organization has its own mandates and management perspective it’s comfortable with, thus creating such in-office flexibility isn’t always viewed as a possibility. However, if a company brings in the right people, they should not fear how the work is done – some people can perform just as well in pajamas as in business suits.

Then again, if you don’t like what your company has to offer environment wise, maybe you should consider moving to Sweden and take advantage of six-hour work days.

-Adam Grant

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