WOMENSENEWS)–In late June President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum to enhance workplace flexibility in the federal government, highlighting just how hot this issue has become.
Despite the national debate, however, most businesses and organizations still have a long way to go in implementing such options for workers.
For women in particular, flexible work options–whether it’s telecommuting, flexible and predictable scheduling, part-time hours or job sharing, to name a few–or the unfortunate lack thereof, have a huge impact on workforce participation rates.
Jennell, a stay-at-home mom who recently returned to work after 16 years was only able to do so because of a flexible job. The idea of “getting an office job was not only daunting, it simply would not work for our family. I knew in order to work I needed a great deal of flexibility in deciding which hours I would work,” she told us in an interview.
I’ve heard hundreds if not thousands of stories like this, both from job seekers and my own team. Flexible work is the key to inviting some of the most highly educated and underutilized candidates back into the workforce–motivated, productive, educated, talented women (who happen to also be nurturing the future of our country as moms).
New Reality, New Vision
A key turning point for many women in the workforce is motherhood. Becoming a parent alters career paths for moms and dads, but moms in particular are more often forced to make difficult decisions related to career and family.
The 40-hour work week we’ve become accustomed to as a society was adopted during the 20th century, “a historical bargain between employers and labor for a family wage sufficient to support a male breadwinner and a homemaker spouse. But only about 20 percent of families fit that model anymore, and most of those are headed by men,” said Catherine Albison and Shelley Correll in a piece for CNN.
Our new reality requires a vision for what work looks like. Mothers are now the primary or sole source of income for 40 percent of U.S. households with children under 18. But a full 43 percent of working women quit their jobs when they have children. A survey of stay-at-home moms who identify as “career oriented” found that 55 percent would prefer to be working now.
Options like being able to work from home occasionally (or fully), working a part-time schedule or having a flexible schedule are ways to re-engage mothers in the workforce. Seventy-three percent of working parents want work flexibility, and the most popular types of flex work are, in order: full telecommuting, flexible schedules, partial telecommuting, part-time schedules and freelance positions.
In order to keep women participating the workforce throughout their careers, companies must do a better job of offering formalized flexible work options. Not only does flexible work help to increase an employer’s candidate pools, it also offers monetary and productivity benefits. And as a profound, and hopefully obvious, side note: flexible work is utilized by more than just women and moms, and can benefit men and fathers too.
Perks for Businesses
While some still see it as a perk for employees with little impact on business, more studies are finding that flexible work options such as remote work and flexible schedules actually have a consistently positive impact on a company’s bottom line.
In one study, the top benefits organizations saw from flexible work were improved employee satisfaction (87 percent) and increased productivity (71 percent). Sixty-five percent also reported that flexible work helps them to retain current talent, reducing costly job turnovers. And 69 percent of companies use their work flexibility policies as a recruiting tool.
Telecommuting in particular has a tremendous impact on reducing overhead costs. For example, 31 percent of Aetna’s employees are teleworkers, which has saved the company 15-25 percent on real estate and related costs and largely reduced its carbon footprint as a result. And companies with official flexible work programs that allow remote work at least three times per month were more likely to report revenue growth of 10 percent or more within the last year, compared to firms without such policies.
The good news is two recent, separate surveys found a large majority of employers and HR professionals agree about where work flexibility is headed. Eighty percent of employers surveyed plan to increase their flexible workforces and 89 percent of HR professionals surveyed said other flexible work arrangements would be more prevalent in the next five years.
So, what happened to Jennell when she returned to work? She reported that, “After working for only four months, I have been promoted, with an increase in pay, and I have been offered the chance to be a mentor!” Without flexible work options, employers miss out on this kind of high-caliber employee far too often.
It’s unfair to force people to make difficult choices when it comes to career and family. It’s also an unnecessary stress in an age where work happens anywhere and everywhere. As the debate on work flexibility continues, with the White House, government agencies and major corporations all in favor of its adoption, our hope is that women, and all workers, have increased access to these work options.
Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time job listings, and founder of Remote.co, a one-stop resource for remote teams and companies, and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative. She was named as a Young Global Leader (class of 2014) by the World Economic Forum for her work in technology and the employment fields. Sutton Fell is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Boulder, Colo., with her husband and two sons.