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Managing Principals by Julia Kramer A Soft Touch

In hard times, it takes a soft touch from the boss to assure the organization that we’re in this together.

By  Julia Kramer

My name is Julia, and I’m a flex fanatic. An unashamed, unabashed lover of that most freeing of family benefits: flex time. It started off as a mild preference to make up the time spent at the pediatrician’s with an extra hour or two at the end of the day. Before I knew it, I graduated to a non-standard daily schedule, then a compressed workweek, and now, at the pinnacle of my enthusiastic enjoyment of flex, I find myself a consultant. I flex with abandon, morning, noon and night, at home and at the office, during the week and on weekends. Not only that, I try to get others to consider flex a healthy and enjoyable alternative to a traditional schedule. While flex is not for everyone (as we know, many businesses must mirror the schedules of their clients and many positions require working on-site during regular hours), the trend is growing and here to stay according to the recent Society for Human Resources Management’s (SHRM) survey titled 2008 Employee Benefits—How Competitive Is Your Organization?

The survey found that flexible work schedules are a cost-effective way to attract and retain employees and a key factor in employee satisfaction. The majority of the firms surveyed give employees the ability to choose their work hours within limits established by the employer. Many others offer compressed workweeks in which employees work longer days for part of the week or pay period in exchange for shorter days or a day off each week or pay period. Some offer mealtime flex—a program where employees may shorten or lengthen their meal period and adjust the rest of their day accordingly.

Flexible Working Benefits

Type % of Employers Offering
Flextime 59
Telecommuting (ad-hoc) 47
Mealtime flex 44
Compressed workweek 37
Telecommuting (part-time) 35
Shift flexibility 26

It’s not just flexible working benefits that can scratch an employee’s itch for work/home life balance. As both new generations of employees and more senior staff request, and in some instances require, a degree of freedom at work to attend to myriad out-of-office responsibilities and enjoyments, a rise is seen in other family-friendly benefits, such as eldercare services and adoption and education assistance. Personal services, such as legal assistance, food services and dry cleaning services, reduce stress, helping employees stay focused on work priorities.

Family-Friendly Benefits

Type % of Employers Offering
Casual dress (one per week) 62
Casual dress (every day) 38
Eldercare referral service 36
Bring child to work in emergency 31
On-site lactation room 25
Legal assistance/services 24
Food & postal services (each) 24
Family scholarships 20

The most common, widely offered benefits are those that enhance productivity while at the same time help employees meet their own professional development and educational goals. It’s the ultimate win-win. Almost all surveyed firms offer professional development opportunities that benefit both the company and the employee, such as seminars, conferences, courses and training.

Employee Development Benefits

Type % of Employers Offering
Professional development 95
Professional memberships 91
License application/renewal 77
Certification/recertification 76
Cross-training for skills 55
Mentoring program 25

Firms with more than 500 employees are more likely than small firms to offer housing and relocation benefits to employees who must move to meet job requirements or for current employees transferring to a new jobsite. This may be because larger firms need a deeper labor pool to support their hiring volume and recruit on a regional or national level, as opposed to just tapping the local market.

Housing and Relocation Benefits

Type % Large Firms % Small Firms
Lump-sum relocation benefit 51 27
Temporary subsidy 52 22
New location visit assistance 49 23
Cost of living adjustment 27 10
Transitional rental assistance 22 12
Down payment assistance 14 5

No one offers all of benefits outlined in the survey, but most firms find a way to offer an array that satisfies their flex fanatics as well as those just looking to work in an environment where their employer makes external challenges and pressures a little bit easier.

Kramer, an HR consultant, is a contributing writer.

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