By Melissa J. Anderson

One group of employees at Citi reports being far happier at work than their counterparts. What did Citi do to keep them satisfied through last year’s tough employee engagement environment? According to Karyn Likerman, SVP, Human Resources at Citigroup, the company’s flex work and alternative work strategies program deserves the praise.

She said, “We do an annual employee survey every September, so our most recent one is hot off the presses. By and large, people who self-report that they have a flex schedule are more satisfied on almost every index – they are clearly more engaged.”

The survey reveals how enabling staff to arrange their work schedule around their busy lives (rather than the other way around) can increase retention and attraction.

It’s also enabled the company to save money on real estate during the economic downturn.

The “Citi Work Strategies” Program

In 2004, Likerman explained, the company put together a task force to look into the benefits of flex work. The company’s official program started in 2005, with features like alternative start and stop times, remote working, and a compressed work week. “Now we have more than 11,500 employees worldwide formally enrolled in the program,” she explained.

She continued, “All employees at all levels across the globe can be considered for the ‘Citi Work Strategies’ program, although ultimate eligibility depends on the nature of the employee’s work, laws and regulations in the country, and manager approval. One of the principles of the program is that if someone asks – and anyone is eligible to ask – they don’t have to explain why they want the alternative work arrangement. Approval is not based upon the reason for the request.

“In many cases there are cultural differences, and it comes down to management’s acceptance. But we do have participants all around the world – Citi does business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions,” she added.

Benefits to Flex Work and Alternative Work Strategies

In 2008, the company identified another benefit of the program – the real estate component. Likerman explained, “we identified locations where it would be beneficial to allow people to work remotely and close down or down-size that location, but still maintain their expertise, presence in the community and longevity of employment.”

This was the first time Citi asked employees to take on alternative work arrangements, Likerman explained. But it helped the company save money, and saved jobs. Employees also report personal savings on such things as their commuting, clothing and lunch expenses.

Trends in Flex Work

Likerman said that she has seen flex work change over the years. “One of the trends we are seeing is that flex work is not considered only for mothers anymore.”

She continued, “For example, we have also found it to be tremendously beneficial to accommodate global time differences. And it is a big help from a continuity of business perspective – for example with the recent snowstorms here in New York and elsewhere, remote solutions really saved the day!”

To sum it up, she explained, “We have seen increasing acceptance of the program around the world, and in some of our businesses, it’s just the way people do business. It’s been very successful.”