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The typical Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, office-bound business structure that’s the norm across the country requires that employees compartmentalize their lives into specific work, vacation, and personal time components. But life does not fall into those categories so simply, and in the modern workforce there’s a wide variety of reasons why workers struggle to conform to convention.

Flexibility in the workplace refers to allowing for differences among employees in how, when, and where work gets done. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to flexibility. Just as workers have different job titles, expertise, responsibilities, and salaries, they can also have different scheduling requirements.

Flexibility in the workplace does not mean flexibility in getting work done. Deadlines still have to be met, and products delivered.

What does flexibility in hours look like?

Did you know that the 40-hour workweek in the U.S. dates to 1938? Did you know that the point of the 40-hour workweek was as a protection for employees, not to benefit employers, and that if it’s not working for us anymore, there are other options? Learn more about why we work the hours we do, and what people are doing to make change.

What does flexibility in location look like?

Did you know that sitting at a desk all day is associated with increased risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death? Did you know that the two men most responsible for the design of the office cubicle, George Nelson and Robert Probst, went on to regret their invention, describing it as “monolithic insanity” with a “dehumanizing effect as a working environment”? Learn more about the downsides of the office, and what people are doing to make change.

Is workplace flexibility a new idea?

Encouraging workplace flexibility in the business world is not a new idea.  Hewlett Packard claims to have pioneered the concept in 1967, although they were likely just the first to formalize it.  Founder David Packard emphasized, “To my mind, flextime is the essence of respect for and trust in people.”  Flexwork policies have gained some ground in corporate America, but for every step forward, there’s a step back.

How does the U.S. stack up compared to other countries?

The United States is far behind the rest of the world in this area.  Out of 21 high incomes countries studied by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, the U.S. finished last with respect to have statutes in place allowing flexible work arrangements. The study warns, “When workplaces are not responsive to the needs and wishes for alternative work arrangements of their employees the chances are that these employees will work below their potential or leave altogether… Against the background of changing demographics and global competition for knowledge and skills, the costs of such a loss of human capital go beyond the individual business to the economy as a whole.” Learn more about how flexibility is successfully being used to improve the workplace around the world.