The Increasing Value of Flexibility


One of the strongest trends in Human Resources we have witnessed over the last five to ten years is the increasing value of flexible scheduling to employees. Not too long ago, in yet another study, this one reported in Fast Company Magazine, one-third of employees reported, "managing work-life balance has become more difficult". Particularly with employees working longer hours (another trend we are seeing), flexible schedules allow employees to coordinate their lives to reduce stress and have better work experiences.

Global Research

More recently, a study from EY across companies in the United States, United Kingdom, India, Japan, China, Germany, Mexico and Brazil polled almost 10,000 full-time employees about work-life challenges. Their goal for this research was "to understand what employees seek in a job--- why they stay, why they quit, and how this differs by generation."

Work-life Balance is Becoming more Difficult to Attain

This research found (in each of the countries studied) work-life balance is becoming increasingly difficult to attain. Employees in Germany and Japan reported the greatest difficulties in managing work/family/personal responsibilities, and China reported the least. Across the globe, nearly half (46 percent) of the managers polled said they work more than 40 hours per week. Moreover, 40 percent reported working more hours, compared with five years ago. This increase in hours could be the rationale for increased requests for flexible schedules.

Pressures on Millennials

When moving into management positions and starting families, increases in hours create a situation that makes work-life balance especially challenging. More younger generation respondents experienced an increase their hours. Among Millennials, almost half (47 percent) indicated an increase in hours, while fewer Generation Xers (38 percent) and Baby Boomers (28 percent) saw their work schedules expand. Of course, having longer workdays makes for a more difficult work-life balance.

What Matters to Candidates

When asked about what’s important in the hiring process, respondents first listed "competitive pay and benefits" (an answer that we thoughtthey had moved away from). Second was "being able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion". According to EY, these flexible perks included “receiving paid parental leave and not working excessive overtime".

Why Employees Leave

This EY study also reported the top five reasons for people quitting their jobs: "minimal wage growth, lack of opportunity to advance, excessive overtime hours, a work environment that does not encourage teamwork, and a boss that doesn’t allow you to work flexibly." 

What these Findings Mean to HR Execs

Wise HR professionals will take note of these findings and urge their employers to place more emphasis on work-life balance. For years, forward-thinking employers and associations have focused their energies to help employees and their members with this critical balance. As we move into the future, this shift will not be optional. (Some would say it isn't now.) The ability to recruit and retain talent will depend on it.

Special thanks to Lauren Dixon writing in Talent Management Magazine for her effective coverage of this important topic.


From "The Herman Trend Alert," by Joyce Gioia, Strategic Business Futurist.


Joyce Gioia is a Strategic Business Futurist concentrating on workforce and workplace trends. Joyce is President and CEO of The Herman Group, a firm serving a wide range corporate, trade association and governmental clients on an international basis.

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