Flexible Work Arrangements Help Retain Good People

An employee who has to choose between work and family may very well quit – costing you money as you try to replace that employee. Flexible work arrangements enable companies to keep good employees and create more loyal and productive workers.

Balancing work and family has received a lot of attention over the years. There are several reasons for this. First, today’s workforce is increasingly diverse and demanding. Second, the workforce is shrinking. There are not enough skilled workers to fill all the jobs.

In this country skilled workers have options. It is important not to force workers to choose between work and family. Each year thousands of good people leave good jobs to take other positions that are more family friendly. This situation has fueled the dramatic rise of home-based and female-owned businesses.

A one size fits all approach no longer works. Employers must either accommodate the needs of their people or be faced with constant turnover and unhappy employees.

The cost of turnover is much more expensive than people realize. In the U.S. it costs between $7-17K to replace an hourly employee, upwards to $40,000 to replace a manager, and even more to replace an executive. In spite of the staggering cost, the majority of businesses do not have a formal retention program.

What makes one person happy can be the very thing that displeases another. That is why organizations must pay specific attention to the various needs each person may have and expect.

By creating a Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA), companies can keep good employees and not force them to sacrifice the diverse needs of their family life. An FWA will help them benefit personally and professionally, and the result will be people who are more loyal, committed, and productive.

FWAs offer options to employees who do not want or need a standard work schedule. A properly prepared FWA allows greater flexibility in balancing roles of work and home. It also can help prevent valuable employees from quitting and taking a less suitable position somewhere else. Most of the time a FWA involves fewer work hours and possibly a proportional reduction of pay and benefits.

A survey by Flexible Resources Inc. of more than 500 women seeking flexible work arrangements found 64 percent of them had either quit or were planning to quit due to the lack of work hour flexibility. What was alarming, 59 percent of these women never asked their employers to modify their work schedules because they assumed they would be denied or lose stature. Younger women are more assertive in seeking flexible work arrangements; 72 percent of women between the age of 25 and 35 were willing to request an FWA compared to only 30% of the women aged 36 to 45.

Among those who requested a Flexible Work Arrangement and were told “no,” reasons for the refusal ran the gamut in the following priority:

  • We can’t give it to you and not the others (52%)
  • You will not be available to others (48%)
  • We have never done it before (24%)
  • You won’t be as productive as when you work full time (8%)
  • Your job is not conducive to flexible hours (5%)
  • There is too much work to do (5%)
  • It wouldn’t fit into a team atmosphere (5%)

But FWA’s have drawbacks. People feel physical presence equals more opportunity for promotions and advancement. Men are particularly vulnerable to the stigma “if you are not at work full-time, you are not competitive.”

Several years ago Working Mother magazine recognized the innovative work/life programs provided by the Bank of America. Its “Child Care Plus” program pays eligible workers an additional amount of money each week per child for employees earning less than $30,000 a year. After learning turnover for participants was about half that of the peer group not participating, BofA expanded the program to include workers with family incomes of $60,000 and also began to allow workers two paid hours a week to work in their children’s schools. Finally, they added money for college. Bank of America gives $2,000 a year for employees enrolled in undergraduate classes and $4,000 for graduate study. As a result, they were able to reduce turnover by 50 percent.


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