Despite the known benefits of flexible work schedules, employers are reluctant to grant the flexibility to employees, and the employees are afraid to take advantage of it, according to a new study from WorldatWork and WFD Consulting.

The study was based on data collected from more than 2,300 employees of companies in six countries –Brazil, China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

There is a strong intellectual business case for work-life programs. “Yet, in practice everybody falls off a cliff, and employers don’t get the response they’re expecting,” for work-life benefits, such as paid time off, says Kathleen Lingle, the leader of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress.

Despite the proof that companies with work-life programs are more profitable and their workers are more engaged and healthy, companies are afraid to take the risk by granting flexible work schedules and lack the courage to do so, explains Lingle, who was the national work-life director at accounting firm KPMG.

For the employers, the survey found that the reluctance is not happening at the top, but rather among the mid-level mangers who worry that if they give one worker flexibility, then everyone will want it, and if their employees are working remotely, they may not be actually working.

Its part of the deep-seeded cultural ideal worker norm and “part of the work ethic that is not spoken of,” Lingle, a study co-author says. It dates back to the turn of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, when an ideal worker was viewed as a cog in the machine. But the only thing associated with constant work is burnout, Lingle says, which happens to both machines and people.

“It’s part of the American work ethic. You just absorb it,” she adds. “When someone leaves at 2 p.m., we wonder why John’s only working half a day, and you may not know he came in at 5 a.m.”

But she adds its easier today to make the change and allow work-life programs because no employer is a pioneer. Workplace flexibility isn’t new territory anymore, and a change will only happen with results, she says. In addition, in the current economic climate, those results are more important than ever.

“Everyone is slammed economically,” Lingle says. “This is the perfect time to say we’re so dead with that cultural stuff … We need to make money. [We need to] have employees who stay with us.”

The answers are sitting right there, she concludes, but the evidence should be in employers’ heads, not their hearts.

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