By Melissa J. Anderson

This week, the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management released their latest study [PDF] on flexible work and benefits. According to the study, many types of flexibility have increased since the last time the survey was performed in 2005. For example, companies are offering more flex time (77% of workplaces, up from 66%), more flex place/telecommuting (63%, up from 34%), more choices in managing time (93%, up from 78%), and more daily time off when important needs arise (87%, up from 77%).

On the other hand, the ability for workers to address flexibility needs in the longer term has decreased since 2005. The researchers found that “moving from part-time to full-time status and back again” has decreased to 41 %, down from 54 percent, and “taking career breaks for reasons including personal and family responsibilities” has decreased to (52%, down from 73%).

Lisa Horn, senior advisor for government relations at the Society for Human Resource Management, commented, “Organizations are realizing the value in giving employees more autonomy to produce their best work—increased productivity and heightened employee engagement.”

She continued, “At the same time, organizations still struggling in a recovering economy are dependent on their workforce and less able to provide employees extended time away from work.”

The survey also revealed new information about flexibility when it comes to leadership – apparently, the researchers learned, when more diverse people are at the top, companies are more likely to provide flex options for staff.

Flexibility Findings

Companies today are much more likely to provide employees with information on flex arrangements for elder care (41% in 2012, versus 29% in 2005). Employers are also now more likely to offer Dependent Care Assistance Prograsm (DCAPs) for elder care (42% versus 24%) and access to respite care (8% versus 3%).

But they are less likely to offer “time off for employees to provide elder care without jeopardizing their jobs” (79% versus 75%).

Outside flexibility, the study noted a few other changes. For example, wellness programs are on the rise. Compared to 2005, when 47% of companies some kind of wellness programs, today 63% do. Additionally, employers today are more likely to provide private areas for women to breastfeed (79%, versus 71% in 2005).

What Factors Influence Flexibility?

The study provided a lot of insight into how company size influences flex arrangements. According to the FWI and SHRM, large companies are significantly more likely than small ones to offer workshops and seminars on work life issues as well as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) “that help employees deal with personal problems that may negatively affect their work or personal lives.”

Some of the differences between small and large companies may be simply due to workforce size. For example, the report notes, “Additionally, large employers are more likely to have employee resource groups, perhaps because they have enough employees in specific identity groups to reach a critical mass to sustain interest in and productivity from such groups.”

The report adds:

“However, we do see a greater proportion of large organizations than small organizations making a real and ongoing effort to inform employees of available assistance for managing work and family responsibilities. This may be because large organizations have more resources and infrastructure to sustain a coordinated communications campaign than a small organization.”

Finally, the researchers looked into whether diversity plays into an organization’s flexible offerings. According to the study, companies with few women (less than 25%) are less likely to offer flexible work arrangements. On the other hand, companies where minorities make up more than half of the work force are less likely to provide high levels of flexibility.

Companies with higher levels of women or ethnic minorities in leadership tended to perform better at providing flexible work options. Similarly, companies with women or minorities in leadership also performed better at providing child and elder care assistance.