Even in a Recession, Flex Makes (Dollars and) Sense

Flex time, job-sharing, compressed schedules and telecommuting: These workplace practices are needed now more than ever as we juggle the demands of work and other life commitments in a global, 24/7 economy.

Women, who make up half the paid labor force and 80 percent of whom will become mothers by age 44, particularly need flexible work options to make the pieces of their work-life puzzle fit together. But workplace flexibility is a salient issue for all people, not just women and not just mothers.

In a 2008 study of the changing workforce by the Families and Work Institute, fathers reported more work-life conflict than ever before. Nearly 60 percent of fathers in dual-earner couples said they experienced some or a lot of conflict, whereas in 1977 only 35 percent did. Young people, older employees, parents and non-parents all need some flexibility in when, where, and how they work.

So it was especially disturbing to learn from a new study by the Society for Human Resource Management that the number of employers offering flextime declined in 2010 to 49 percent (from 57 percent in 2006)–most likely as a result of the recession.

In my new book, The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, my co-author Joan Blades and I ask whether the benefits of offering workplace flexibility outweigh the costs. We learned that businesses that eliminate flexible work options for employees (or fail to offer them) would be wise to first stop and consider that:

  • One of every three workers says being able to flexibly balance work and life is the most important factor in choosing a job.
  • Low-wage workers are 30 percent less likely to quit their jobs within two years if they have some flexibility.

Psychologists and social psychologists have extensively documented the payoffs of employee-friendly benefits and policies. What they’ve seen is that when employers help employees balance their life and work commitment, they are more satisfied, engaged, motivated and loyal. These human feelings lead people to work harder and exceed expectations. This lowers turnover, absenteeism, recruiting and training costs. Costs down, productivity up. The net effect? A boost to the bottom line.

The key is to recognize that all employees are an asset, not a liability, and that the net effect of flex increases the return on that asset. Even in a recession.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user NazarethCollege under under Creative Commons 2.0.


Nanette Fondas is co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace and former professor of business. Nanette writes, blogs, and curates issues on work-life fit and parenting in a globalized economy. Her award-winning research on the economics and sociology of work, organizations, and management appears in scholarly journals and newspapers, magazines, and blogs including The Atlantic, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, and MomsRising. Follow her @NanetteFondas on Twitter.