Flexibility is Key to a Positive Environment

Posted: May 23, 2008 12:01 AM

If you want to know what we haven't learned in our workplaces over the past decade, it's how important a flexible work environment is.

A new study of 1,100 employers done for the Families and Work Institute reveals that companies that have more women or minorities in top positions and nonprofit organizations are likely to have the most flexible work environments.

That's much the same way it was in 1998.

The 2008 National Study of Employers does show some progress over the past decade, but also documents that adopting family-friendly policies could take decades.

"There has been a surprising stability in many of the practices, policies and programs over the past 10 years," says Ellen Galinsky, president and founder of the Families and Work Institute and lead author of the study. "The NSE confirms that in the face of economic volatility companies have generally held steady or reduced benefits that carry hard costs.

"Yet in certain areas - including domestic partner benefits and access to information on support services - we are seeing an expansion of benefits."

Workplaces of 50 or more employees that have women or minorities in key leadership positions are generally still the most accommodating of flexible work schedules, according to the report.

Even so, at least 79 percent of those employers allow some employees to change their arrival and departure time, up from 68 percent in 1998.

Thirty-nine percent of companies now provide access to elder care services information, up from 23 percent a decade ago.

Sixty-five percent of companies provide employee assistance plans, compared to 56 percent 10 years earlier.

Wellness benefits climbed from 56 to 60 percent during that time, while the number of firms offered domestic partner benefits more than doubled from 14 to 31 percent.

One of the perplexing findings of this survey is that companies with women and minorities in top leadership roles are likely to be more accommodating of the need for flexible work schedules and benefits.

That's regretful because it shows that many male-dominated companies are still struggling to accept the needs for more flexible workplaces and benefits.

Without a doubt, this is a lingering impact from societal standards that leave most family responsibilities to women, while men are freed from that concern.

Men need to see that and act upon it. They have the same family interests as women but the invisible wall that often separates men from day-to-day duties can be the same invisible wall the prevents them from seeing the need for these policies.

Change comes slow, but this change is overdue. Perhaps when the Families and Work Institute does its 2018 study, it will find no noticeable difference in the types of flexible work arrangement offered by companies run by men and those by women. That would be a true sign of progress.