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Survey: Workers Want Flexibility, But There’s Too Much Work

Flexibility in how, when, and where work is done–and life is managed–is no longer a bright, shiny, novelty item that only a few people have.

work+life fitFlexibility in how, when, and where work is done–and life is managed–is no longer a bright, shiny, novelty item that only a few people have:

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  • A majority of full-time employees say they have some form of work+life flexibility.
  • Flexibility survived the recession intact and continues to grow.
  • If we work from home or shifted our hours, we’re significantly less fearful of the negative impact or concerned about what others will think than we were five years ago. However, the primary obstacles now are time and workload.

These are just a few of the findings from the newly released fourth edition of the Work+Life Fit™ Reality Check survey, a biennial study that monitors the national progress of issues related to work life flexibility from the individual’s point of view.
The survey provides insight into where we need to focus today for flexibility to become a meaningful and deliberate part of the way we manage our business, work and lives. In other words, Work+Life Flex 2.0.

First conducted in 2006 for my company, Work+Life Fit, Inc. by Opinion Research Corporation, this telephone survey of a national probability sample of 637 full-time employed adults has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

While the results are discussed in their entirety in the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check Executive Summary, highlights include:

What’s new about work+life flexibility:

The flexibility that existed before the downturn survived intact and is growing; therefore, flexibility in how, when and where work is done – and life is managed – is here to stay, in good times and bad. It’s not a fad, but a foundational part of how to live and work.

Since 2006, people are significantly less afraid of the financial impact and the negative perceptions of flexibility, but today too little time and too much work get in the way. One of the most surprising and encouraging findings from the survey is the dramatic drop when compared to 2006 in the concerns related to using flexibility. This despite the recession. However, it’s important to note that these fears and concerns haven’t gone away completely:

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  • You might make less money: 21% in 2011 versus 45% in 2006
  • You might lose your job: 16% in 2011 versus 28% in 2006
  • Others will think you don’t work hard: 11% in 2011 versus 39% in 2006
  • You worry that your boss would say “no”: 13% in 2011 versus 32% in 2006

What’s new in 2011 is that 29% of respondents reported that the biggest obstacle to using or improving work life flexibility was “increased workload or no time for flexibility.”

Other challenges and roadblocks to optimizing flexibility addressed in the survey include: the prevailing perception that work+life flexibility is a “perk or benefit” versus a strategy for managing the business; the lack communication and coordination across all levels that limits the success of day-to-day flexibility; and the sense that individuals can’t initiate flexibility but must wait for managers to bestow it.

The challenge now is to tackle all of these issues head on in order to use flexibility as a targeted, deliberate strategy to achieve business and personal goals. For example, reframe flexibility as a solution for managing workload and time to get the job done and have a life.

Because, as the majority of respondents noted, without optimal work life flexibility business will suffer particularly in terms of employee health, morale, and productivity. And the employee desire for optimal flexibility continues to be a primary recruitment and retention issue.

What’s current about the state of work+life flexibility:

Day-to-day, informal flexibility is most common form, and flextime leads the way as the most popular formal arrangement. Even though day-to-day, ad hoc flexibility is the most common form that individuals use, in too many organizations “flexibility” means formal plans. As a result, employers and individuals undervalue the power of day-to-day shifts in how, when and where work is done as part of a targeted strategy.

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Men and women are equally as likely to want and use work life flexibility, with men more likely than women to use formal flextime and compressed workweeks. Hopefully this is another nail in the coffin that work+life flexibility is a “women’s” issue. No, it’s not.

For individuals, the main takeaway and question from the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check:

The main takeaway for individuals from the survey is that work+life flexibility is no longer something unusual that only a few people have. In fact, most full-time employees have it whether it’s informal, day-to-day flexibility or a formal plan. But is question is are you using that flexibility to achieve your unique work and personal goals. Or, are you stuck behind lingering fears, and too much work and too little time?

Here are 5 Takeaway Tips for Individuals to help all of us get the most out of the work life flexibility, now that it’s become a foundational part of the way we live and work.

For employers, the main takeaway and question from the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check:

The main takeaway for employers from the survey is that work+life flexibility is here to stay and a majority of your full-time employees say they have some form of it. But the question is are you using that flexibility to achieve your organization’s broad profit, growth and employee goals (see below)?

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Impacts

Here are 6 Takeaway Tips for Employers based on the survey findings to help employers capture, and target the flexibility toward specific strategic objectives.

What do you think? After reviewing the findings from the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check findings … Has flexibility become a foundational part of the way you live, work and run your business? Do you agree that it’s time to move onto Work+Life Flex 2.0 and start capturing and targeting that work+life flexibility to achieve your unique goals?

For more on work+life fit and flexibility, I invite you to visit my Work+Life Fit blog, join me on Twitter @caliyost, and sign up to for our monthly “Make Flexibility Real” how-to newsletter and LinkedIn group.