For a long time, touting “soft benefits” like flexible scheduling and telecommuting was how companies recruited the best and brightest. Now it appears those flexible benefits are getting tossed aside.
Recent studies suggest that companies are getting stingier about allowing employees to set their own work schedules, take afternoons off and other flexible work arrangements, according to The New York Times. Companies have shifted away from evaluating their employees purely based on performance—“results-driven” cultures, as they’re called—and instead gone back to more traditional assessment measures like hours worked and face-time.
A Boston College study, for example, found that flexible work arrangements are often only offered to limited sets of employees or on a case-by-case basis. Of 545 U.S. employers examined, it found that only 20 percent of them offer flexible-scheduling benefits to the majority of their workers.
“While large percentages of employers report that they have at least some workplace flexibility, the number of options is usually limited and they are typically not available to the entire workforce,” Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work, said in a news release. “We’re trying to help employers understand that flexible work initiatives work best if their organizations offer a comprehensive set of options.”
Experts told the Times that companies are still nervous about giving employees too much free rein to design their own schedules, because they aren’t confident such flexibility actually leads to more worker productivity.
There have been some high-profile and controversial examples of companies reining in their flexible work arrangements in recent years. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting soon after taking the company’s helm in 2013.
For small businesses, large companies’ shift away from flexible scheduling and other worker-friendly policies can be seen as an opportunity. Many small employers often can’t compete with large companies on traditional benefits like health insurance plans. But they can provide flex time, summer hours and other perks that offer their employees’ better work-life balance.
There’s also evidence that more workplace flexibility improves company performance. The 2014 National Study of Employers by the Families and Work Institute found that U.S. companies provide less workplace flexibility than they did in 2008. But the study notes that smaller companies are far more likely to allow employees to take time off for personal or family matters, telecommute on an as-needed basis and return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption.
“Truly effective employers recognize that employees’ personal and professional lives are both sources of strength and challenges that can affect work outcomes,” the authors conclude.
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