For those with an interest in flexible work, the benefits are obvious. Only, how many business owners are lining up to provide flexible work options for their employees?
The message that flexible work can actually be good for business seems to get lost along the way. Flexible work, particularly working from home, is such a beneficial arrangement that it is best thought of as a win-win for employers and employees. (Society can benefit too, but that’s a discussion for another time).
Let’s take a look at the benefits of work-from-home arrangements.
Stress levels fall.
Certainly, flexible work often brings better work-life balance for an employee. Employers also benefit through reduced employee stress. Well-regarded management research from the U.K. has shown that reducing stress down to healthy levels through flexible work results in employees who are more highly engaged at work. Workers with flexible work options also develop a positive association with their workplace that naturally flows into a greater commitment to the organization. That greater commitment results in employees staying on with their employer for a longer period of time.
In Australia, over half of the employees who intend to remain with their employer attribute their loyalty to the availability of flexible work options in their workplace. Imagine the cost savings being made by these organizations. In a medium-sized organization of say, 50 staff, the difference between losing one in five staff and losing one in ten could equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Turnover cost is often higher than businesses realize. That cost varies depending on the complexity of the role, the ease of recruitment and the individual’s salary, but has been estimated by the American Management Association as between 25 and 250 percent.
There is more to be said about the benefits to business—they don’t stop there. Absenteeism drops when work from home is an option. In the UK, BT discovered that by enabling flexible work, the absentee rate among flexible workers reduced by 63 percent, which left it at 20 percent below the UK average. In Australia, Unity4 has developed a work from home model for its call center services that has a much lower turnover rate than traditional call center offices. Other call centers are now following suit.
One of the strongest reasons for businesses to take a serious look at flexible work is the productivity gains that are possible. Now if you had a staff member working a full hour each day more than their colleagues, I am sure you would notice. Businesses that give their staff the option to work from home are enabling their staff to achieve productivity gains to a similar degree. In fact, Stanford University completed a fantastic piece of robust research in 2012 that showed individual productivity gains of 22%, which is approximately two hours of productivity gain in an eight-hour working day. For these gains to be achieved the arrangement must suit the employee—the best way to achieve this is to enable employees to choose whether they work from home or the office.
Barriers to Flexible Work Options
Despite the clear benefits to business, for many, they have not yet outweighed the perceived costs. In Australia, recent research showed that every second business in Australia has absolutely no flexibility options. Work from home arrangements have not yet become mainstream—while many employees work from home at some point, most of these arrangements are informal. It appears that many businesses think that offering flexible work creates complexity, particularly getting the policies and processes in place.
The second major barrier is that many businesses are mistaken that flexible work can cost the business overall. In fact, through reducing staff turnover, reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity, a business stands to benefit greatly. The Australian Department of Communications’ Return on Investment Tool is an example of a conservative tool that businesses can use to achieve reliable assessments of the overall cost benefit.
Leading lights such as Microsoft Australia continue to demonstrate that there are strong business reasons to seriously consider flexibility as a business tool. Microsoft Australia was voted by its employees as the ‘Best of the Best’ employer in the 2012 Aon Hewitt awards due to its flexible ‘anywhere working’ arrangements.
In making flexibility part and parcel of their workplace, employers can demonstrate a clever approach to business that contributes to a healthy bottom line in more ways than one. The business benefits of work from home are so clear that soon many more employers will wonder why they aren’t yet teleworking.
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