On March 31, the White House issued a brief titled Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility. It outlines the availability of flextime in the U.S. and makes the argument that greater flexibility would benefit not just individuals but society at large.
From the report: “… because some of the benefits [of flexibility] may extend beyond the individual employer and its workers, wider adoption of such policies and practices may well have benefits to more firms and workers, and for the U.S. economy as a whole.”
Here are a few of the public benefits we could derive from flexible workplaces (extrapolated from the White House report and other sources):
Lower Public Burden for Senior Care
People are living longer. Those born around the 40s will live 10 years longer than those born around 1910). That creates an added need for senior care. Currently approximately 43.5 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers to family members over the age of 50. Nearly one-fifth of employed people are senior caregivers.
The easier we can make it for workers to continue providing that care, presumably the fewer of those seniors who will need government and/or non-profit services.
Did you know stress is a better indicator of vulnerability to colds than smoking, poor diet or lack of exercise?
For years, studies have found links between “high job strain” and heightened rates of heart disease, depression and other illness. High job strain is defined as work that is demanding but allows employees little to no control over how they work.
When workers have more control, through flextime or self-scheduling shift work for example, they experience lower blood pressure, better quality sleep and less fatigue.
The rationale goes beyond stress reduction. When people have more control over their time, they tend to engage in healthier habits, such as eating better, exercising more and visiting the doctor.
The argument, then, is that flexible workplaces could reduce health care costs. Meanwhile, employers benefit directly with higher energy, more focused workers.
Better Educated Workforce
In the same way a healthier workforce could improve national productivity, so too could a better educated one. The U.S. workplace has a growing need for analytical and interactive skills—the kind largely obtained through post-secondary education.
Yet most working adults would find it difficult to give up their current income to return to school fulltime. Logically, we need to provide ways for people to pursue both education and work at the same time.
Indeed many schools are working to accommodate working student needs by providing classes in evenings and on weekends and online. And adults are returning to school past the traditional age. In 2006, the number of students age 25 and older enrolled in degree-granting institutions was 39 percent.
Employers could aid this effort by providing greater access to flexible work arrangements, allowing workers to adjust their schedules to available classes. Regrettably, while continuing education would be most beneficial to those in low wage / low skills jobs, that population has the least access to flexibility.
Among employees who have high flexibility with their work schedules, about 65 percent say they are satisfied with their marital relationships, according to Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute.
We know that as individual and combined work hours increase, so too does the incidence of divorce. But we also know, according to studies from IBM and Brigham Young, that employees who felt they had flexibility could work eight to 13 hours more per week, without negative impact on stress or work-life balance.
The logical inference is that workplace flexibility would help couples maintain their longer work hours while alleviating some of the related stress on their relationships.
When we talk about healthier kids, we mean the whole range of childhood wellness from readiness for school to physical and emotional health. Today, two-thirds of children have all their parents in the labor market and 50 percent have all their parents working fulltime.
Not surprisingly, dual income couples that both work fulltime (35+ hours) are more likely to report feeling constantly rushed and as if they have too little time for their children. These families also eat dinner together less than those with a non-employed or part-time working spouse.
Again, flexibility helps negate some of that household stress. And, in the same way that workplace flexibility allows adults to make healthier choices, those benefits trickle down to children. Parents who find time to exercise and eat well will pass those behaviors on to their kids.
By Jaime Leick
LMW Content Editor