Despite great strides in broad employer acceptance of flexible work arrangements, the idea that face time in the office means higher productivity is still alive and well.

“The notion that presence equals productivity or that the ideal worker is still the full-time worker – those mindsets are still alive and with us,” says Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, and co-author of a new report on workplace flexibility. “But there is flexibility for full-time employees so that’s much more becoming a standard of the American workplace.” 

In today’s digital and globally linked workplace, more and more employers are using flexible work arrangements as a benefit than ever before. The rise in workplace flexibility programs has continued to climb since 2008, when only half of employers offered this benefit to employees. However, according to a new study from the Society for Human Resource Management and Families and Work Institute, approximately 67% of employers now offer some form of telecommuting – up from 58% in 2012.

“We know that the workforce and workplace continue to evolve, whether we look at the complexity of the 21st century workforce or at those technological advances that enable work really to happen anywhere,” says Lisa Horn, co-director of SHRM's Workplace Flexibility Initiative. “But these changes mean organizations must adapt or must reinvent how work gets done, in our view, to remain competitive.”

HR and benefit professionals must act as “change agents” in developing innovative options for their organizations in order to comply with the changing needs of the workplace, she believes.

The national survey of 1,000 employers highlights that organizations are offering flexible work arrangements for a variety of reasons, including employee retention (35%), recruitment (14%) and to increase productivity (12%). Other reasons cited include flexible work being “the right thing to do” (11%) or to support employee morale and job satisfaction (10%).

“Employers are really offering these kinds assistance with people’s personal and family life [in mind] as a way of both keeping and furthermore engaging their talent,” says Galinsky.

Also see:Sixth Circuit rules that telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation

The percentage of employers allowing at least some employees to periodically change quitting times within a range of hours remains virtually unchanged at 81%, up from 79% in 2008. The percentage of employers allowing at least some of their employees to work some of their regular paid hours at home on a regular basis, meanwhile, has jumped from 23% in 2008 to 38% in 2014.

Another example of the traditional workplace is seen in how decision-makers grade workers. Ken Matos, FWI’s senior director of research, explains that typical employee performance appraisal systems trail behind advancements in flexibility programs. Decreases were reported for employers that use evaluations that judge employees based on accomplishments rather than face time at the office.

Also see: How far should the virtual workplace intrude in personal lives?

“The culture of flexibility, the ways in which organizations talk about and reinforce the idea that [there are] creative solutions to problems that are not just viable but desired, also seems to be in flux,” Matos explains. “Organizations seem to have settled on some pro-flexibility messaging but seem to be falling behind in matching their [behavior] with those messages.”

Seventy-eight percent of employers surveyed offer full family and medical leave, which protects jobs for workers who need leave for childbirth, adoption, foster care placement, a medical condition or to care for a child or spouse with a serious medical condition.

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