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Balancing act: Flexible schedules may lead to lower costs, more loyalty

FILE - Brent Cranfield telecommutes from his home on Thursday, May 29, 2008 in Marietta, GA.  The one day a week is saving 30 or 40 miles on his car once a week.
FILE - Brent Cranfield telecommutes from his home on Thursday, May 29, 2008 in Marietta, GA. The one day a week is saving 30 or 40 miles on his car once a week.
Stanley Leary, Associated Press

If it seems like I'm always using this space to beat the drum for improved work flexibility — well, I am.

But I'm not alone in pushing this agenda.

I receive emails every week supporting my belief that, when appropriate, flexible work options help both employees and companies improve productivity and morale.

This week's installment comes courtesy of a recent survey of 1,300 people by FlexJobs, a website designed to help people find telecommuting and other flexible work options.

Regular readers will recall that I wrote a couple of months ago about a GetVoIP study in which 53 percent of tech workers surveyed said they would accept a wage reduction to work from home. The new FlexJobs survey confirms those earlier results, with one in five respondents from a variety of occupations saying they would take a 10 percent cut in pay to telecommute, and another 7 percent saying they would accept a 20 percent pay reduction for that option.

But the FlexJobs survey goes beyond wages. For example, it found that about 20 percent of respondents would give up some vacation time to get a more flexible working arrangement, and another group that size would give up health benefits. Sixteen percent said they would give up employer-matching retirement contributions in exchange for more flexibility.

In addition to potentially saving money for companies, such arrangements could have other benefits. The FlexJobs survey indicated that 83 percent of respondents said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.

That's no surprise to me. I appreciate the opportunities I have to work from home occasionally, and that does make me feel more loyal to my boss and my company.

I was a bit shocked to read that 46 percent of respondents to the FlexJobs survey said they had given up or quit a job due to a lack of scheduling that supported work-life balance, and 53 percent said they knew someone who had done so.

“These are staggering numbers in an economy with such high unemployment,” said Sara Sutton Fell, FlexJobs CEO, in a prepared statement about the survey. “It shows that the lack of flexible work options is already a serious factor in recruiting and retaining employees.”

If that is an accurate representation of the feelings of workers out there, I'm definitely relieved that I am allowed to offer some flexibility to people on my team. I have two openings to fill right now, and I want to attract great candidates who will stay with us for years to come.

The FlexJobs survey also asked people why they wanted more telecommuting and flexible work options. In response, 75 percent listed work-life balance as the primary reason, which is to be expected. Another 45 percent mentioned time savings, 43 percent said commute stress and 40 percent listed cost savings. About 33 percent of respondents mentioned health as a consideration, with 20 percent specifying exercise.

“It’s worth companies noting that by offering flexible work arrangements, it can not only lead to more dedicated staff, but also to less employee turnover,” Sutton Fell said in the statement. “Such options are an obvious way to cut back on the cost of having to recruit and train new team members, not to mention that a happier, healthier and less stressed staff is a more productive staff.”

I've found this to be true, both for myself and for people I manage. For workers who have jobs that lend themselves to work-from-home arrangements, and who prove that they can be productive away from the office cube farm, flexibility can be a major reason to stick with a job and a company.

This is a huge deal for me as a manager, because recruiting new people takes a lot of time and resources. And don't get me started on training. Many of our processes and procedures are specific to the products we build, so the learning curve for new employees can be steep. Keeping the best workers we already have is a better option.

Finally, the FlexJobs survey asked people where they go when they really need to get some work done. Only 19 percent said they go to the office, while 53 percent said they take tasks to a home office in such situations.

"An additional 18 percent of people said that they go to the office before or after regular work hours," the FlexJobs statement said. "These data points should be a major reality check for employers who seem to believe employees work best while at the office surrounded by their colleagues."

Again, this confirms what I've written in previous columns. While time in the office is a necessity to promote collaboration, "collaboration" can sometimes turn into "conversation."

I fully support the notion that coworkers are happier and work harder when they enjoy each other's company and have some time to chat about their lives outside of the office. However, I think we've all known people who take this to extremes, forcing coworkers to take projects home or hide in a corner of the office after regular business hours to finish a task.

As always, I'm interested in your responses to the results of this survey. Other than money, what would you be willing to give up to gain more work flexibility? If you're a telecommuter, has that arrangement made you feel more loyal to your employer? Or have you ever left a job because you weren't allowed a more flexible schedule?

Send me an email or leave a comment with your thoughts about these or other flex-work issues, and I'll share some of your responses in a future column.

Email your comments to or post them online at Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.