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May 08, 2006
The Low-Cost, High-Impact Benefit You May be Overlooking

By Sean Dean, Associate Editor

Flexible work arrangements are more than a benefit--they are a low-cost business tool that can improve productivity, recruitment, and retention, said Bernadette Fusaro, director of work/life services at Harris Rothenberg International, during WorldatWork's Total Rewards Conference & Exhibition in Anaheim, California.

Fusaro said that flexible work arrangements, which include flexible work hours, compressed work weeks, job sharing, part-time work, and telecommuting, are a "win-win" for employer and employee. She cited studies that found the flexible work arrangements (FWAs) increased productivity and prompted a higher level of employee commitment and satisfaction. She said FWAs are a tool employers can use to improve the bottom line without a big outlay of money.

She told audience members that they should make the business case for FWAs by looking at catalysts for FWAs within their company, such as rising turnover, and outside their company.

Fusaro said management support is also key, which is why it's important to train managers and address their concerns. For example, she said managers mistakenly think that every employee will want to use FWAs once they are offered. She noted that some jobs are unsuitable for a flexible work arrangement and some workers have no interest in one.

She recommended that employers create a self-assessment tool for employees to use in considering whether their job and their work style might be a good fit for a flexible work arrangement. Questions should address issues like self-motivation, self-discipline, performance appraisals, and communication skills, she said.

She recommended that those interested in starting FWAs at their company develop guidelines, offer training, and launch a pilot program.

During the second half of the presentation, Danielle Shanes, manager of work environment at the McGraw Hill Companies, said her company's successful flexible-work-arrangement program was five years in the making. McGraw Hill's program includes a guide to flexible work arrangements for employees and managers.

Shanes said the company's guide for managers includes:

  • Tips for managing FWAs
  • Guidance for making decisions on whether to allow an employee to have a flexible work arrangement
  • Assistance on performance management
  • Success stories
  • Self-assessment for managers

The company's program stresses that FWAs are a privilege and not an entitlement and requires employees to complete a self-assessment, she said.

She added that the company uses FWAs as a business tool aimed at improving results. She agreed with Fusaro that those interested in starting a flexible-work-arrangement program at their company should stress the business case, such as how productivity improves. McGraw Hill's policy is issue-neutral, meaning the company doesn't make decisions based on the reason behind the request for a flexible work arrangement, Shanes said.

In addition to training employees and managers on FWAs, the company trains HR on how to coach managers, she said. She said the training has had positive results.

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