Employers Lax in Managing Flexible Work Programs

April 30, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employers are embracing flexible work arrangements as a way to meet the needs of a diverse workforce, but most have not structured their programs to maximize the benefits, Hewitt Associates found.

Eighty-eight percent of U.S. employers provide some sort of flexible work arrangement to their employers, up from 77% in 1998, according to a Hewitt announcement. Of the companies who offer flexible work arrangements, almost all (98%) said the benefits of workforce programs match or outweigh the costs associated with implementing them.

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Two-thirds of survey respondents that offer flexible work arrangements said the programs increased employee engagement, and 64% said they improved employee retention. Another 49% cited enhanced recruitment results.

However, Hewitt found very few employers have formal policies and consistent procedures in place to manage their workforce programs. Just more than one quarter (27%) indicated they have companywide, formal written policies, only one-third have a formal employee application process.

According to the survey, 39% of companies have policies or guidelines that vary by location, business unit, department, or job class, and 31% offer flexibility at the discretion of individual managers. Programs offered also vary by type of arrangement: the majority of companies offer programs on an ad hoc basis, with job sharing (46%), telecommuting (39%), and flextime (31%) being the most prevalent. Part-time work is the most likely program to be offered on a company-wide basis (36%).

Hewitt found most companies do not effectively communicate their flexible work arrangement programs to managers or employees. Less than half (48%) of the companies participating in Hewitt's survey provide education and communication about their workplace flexibility programs to all employees. While 31% said they wanted to limit use of their flexible work arrangement programs, either because their company culture has not yet fully embraced widespread use of them or because they are concerned with the logistics of having too many employees using the program, 69% said they do not provide broad communication so programs can be offered at manager discretion.

However, only 39% of companies indicated that managers understand their flexible work arrangements, and less than half (42%) said they are confident in their managers' ability to manage employees who use them. Most (61%) do not provide training on how to administer these arrangements.

The majority (71%) of companies who offer flexible work arrangements do not measure the effectiveness of these programs , and just 14% measure results formally. Of those that do measure their programs, nearly three-quarters (73%) measure success through employee engagement, more than two-thirds (69%) through employee retention, and half measure success through productivity.

"Flexible work arrangements have become increasingly popular programs among employers because they are both highly valued by employees and relatively inexpensive for employers to implement. But these programs can also be terribly complex to design, manage and measure. Companies with consistent and formal policies, strong education and communication, and ongoing measurement strategies in place will truly succeed in maximizing the return on their investment-both in terms of costs and employee engagement," said Carol Sladek, principal in Hewitt's Work-Life practice, in the news announcement.