iStock_000006413523XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson

“One of the things that surprised me was how significantly fear related to flex has gone down,” began Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Work+Life Fit, Inc. Since 2006, Yost and her team have been studying attitudes toward work/life fit and flexible work schedules. This year, Yost said, the results were encouraging – not only is flex scheduling more the norm, but fewer people are concerned that it may harm their chances for higher pay or promotion.

That’s a good thing, Yost explained. “Flex is no longer a thing only a few people have and many are afraid of. Most of us have it in a different form. Now we need to move to the next step – how we can make it work.”

She added, “We have to make it as good as it can be.”

Most Employees Using Flex

“We’ve officially moved from flex as a bright, shiny, new idea, because, in fact, most of us have some of it,” Yost explained. According to the survey, 82% of respondents reported using some kind of flex.

The challenge with flex is no longer about convincing employers that it’s a good idea. “It’s about making it work,” she said. “It’s about capturing it, scaling it, and making it work for everybody. It’s about moving from idea to action.”

According to the survey, “a majority of respondents agreed (66%) that the business would suffer in a number of key areas without work life flexibility, with no difference between the responses of men and women.”

Employees, both men and women, say that employers are recognizing that flex improves business. Yost explained, “People now realize that if you work flexibly, you still produce the same amount of work as before.”

She continued, “We’ve gotten over the hurdle that flex means less work – and believe it or not, [flex workers] are often giving more.”

Surprisingly, 84% of men reported using flex while 78% of women reported the same. Does this mean that men are being impacted more by work/life fit issues? Yost wasn’t so sure.

She explained that the disparity mainly came down to more men using formal flex time (51% to 39%) and compressed work schedules (32% to 19%). She continued, “Men are probably more likely to be in manufacturing roles or more formal, organized types of labor environments.”

“Really, flex is now a gender neutral issue. It’s about how we all can bring the best of ourselves to the table,” she added.

Next Steps for the Next Level of Flex

Yost outlined three specific areas that we need to work on to take flexibility to the next level of effectiveness.

She said, “First of all we have to change the mindset of flexibility as a perk or benefit to strategy. It really is a way of operating or doing your job.” According to the study, 50% of respondents said the ability to work flexibly was a “perk.”

Really, Yost explained, flex should be seen simply way to bring out the best in an employee’s capabilities. If someone can do a better job teleworking or utilizing a compressed work schedule, then that shouldn’t be considered a benefit for them – it’s really a boon for the employer.

Secondly, she explained, “We need to improve the way we communicate across all stakeholders concerning day to day flex. That means letting everyone we work with know what’s going on as far as how the work is going to get done.”

The study showed that one of the snags caused by flexwork is that when people are working flexibly, other team members often don’t know where or when assignments will be completed, and maintaining close communication would alleviate some that stress and confusion.

Finally, she said, many people don’t know that flex is even available, waiting for supervisors or managers to present flex options, rather than seeking them out. “I encourage individuals to take the initiative to propose the schedule they need.”

She continued, “The study showed that many still wait for their boss to give it to them, but bosses don’t necessarily know they need it.” If employees want to talk about a flex schedule, employees should feel comfortable with making the first move.

And because, as the study showed, flex is quickly becoming more accepted, employees shouldn’t worry that flex will harm their career. In fact, while 32% of respondents said they were afraid their boss would say “no” in 2006, this year, only 13% said the same. That’s a big leap in a short period of time, and it shows a real change in the perception and acceptance of flex.