How to retain employees with flexible work arrangements

flexible work arrangments to improve employee retention

Companies want to know: What can we do to retain top talent and attract new hires?

According to the US Department of Labor, more than 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021. You read that right, 4.5 million people — that month alone. It’s an astonishing figure, one that reflects what Anthony Klotz dubbed “The Great Resignation.”

Thanks, in part, to the pandemic, people all over the globe have begun to rethink their careers, their personal lives, and their balance between the two. Could flexible work arrangements be the key to improving retention rates? Let’s take a look.

In this blog post, you’ll learn:

  • What exactly a flexible work arrangement is (and its many forms)
  • The benefits of flexible work arrangements for both employees and employers
  • How flexible work can reduce employee turnover amidst The Great Resignation
  • Employee retention strategies, other than flexible work, to get your wheels turning

What is a flexible work arrangement?

A flexible work arrangement (or FWA) is a way of structuring one’s job so that there’s more leeway in location and/or hours. Someone with an FWA isn’t tied to the traditional 9–5 job with a Monday–Friday commute, making it ideal for caretakers, students, and anyone else who needs to balance other priorities with work.

Not all flexible work arrangements are the same. Work can be flexible when it comes to location (as we’ve seen with remote work), but it can also be flexible in terms of scheduling and the total number of hours worked.

Georgetown Law describes a flexible work arrangement as “any one of a spectrum of work structures that alters the time and/or place that work gets done on a regular basis.” We’ll take a look at that “spectrum” in just a bit. But first, let’s discuss some of the benefits that flexible work arrangements can bring to both the employee and employer!

Four key benefits of flexible work arrangements:

1. Opportunities for employees to experience better work-life balance

Flexible work arrangements not only support working parents (some of whom would quit the workforce entirely due to a lack of childcare) but anyone who needs better alignment between their professional and personal lives. These past few years, we’ve seen burnout become more prevalent among employees than before the pandemic — it’s clear that work-life balance is important for productivity, mental health, and overall well-being.

2. Reduced absenteeism

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, flexible work arrangements may help to manage employee attendance.  

3. Greater employee engagement and job satisfaction

When employee engagement is low, human resources might explore flexible work arrangements, although it may be only one piece of the puzzle.

4. Higher productivity

In a Gartner survey of over 10,000 digital workers (from Europe, Asia-Pacific, and the United States), 43% of respondents reported that flexibility in work hours enabled them to experience higher productivity.

5. Improved environmental impact

As more companies make allowances for off-site work, less people need to commute five days a week, which means less greenhouse gas emissions. Gartner’s survey (mentioned above) also indicates that less time commuting could mean higher productivity.

6. Greater employee retention for businesses and the ability to attract new employees

Offering flexible options, whether in terms of work schedules or location, could mean the difference between keeping or losing your best employees. During a time when the market for talent is highly competitive, employees have more leverage and are more comfortable in seeking out a new job if their current workplace doesn’t offer flexibility.

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How does flexible work increase employee retention?

Not only do people want flexible jobs, but they’ve come to expect it. A 2020 study by Owl Labs, in partnership with Global Workplace Analytics, found that 92% of the survey’s respondents expect to work from home at least once per week after the Covid-19 pandemic. From the same study, 80% expect to work from home at least three times per week. What’s more, 46% of respondents say they would leave their jobs if their employers didn’t allow them to continue working from home after the pandemic, while 66% would stay but be less happy.

Here are a few more key findings from that same report:

  • 80% say that the ability to work from home at least some of the time would make them feel like their employer cares
  • 74% say that they’d be less likely to leave their employer if they could work from home some of the time

Types of flexible work arrangements

Most of us think of remote work when talking about flexible work arrangements. However, remote work is just one of many ways to offer your employees more flexibility. Take a look at some of the different types of arrangements below:

  • Flextime. This type of flexible work arrangement still requires the employee to work a set number of weekly hours. However, the employee can decide when they start and end their workday. Flextime might involve “core hours,” during which an employee must be available for work.
  • Part-time. When an employee works part-time, that means they work fewer hours than what the company considers full-time. It’s up to the company’s discretion to define the minimum hours that qualify for full-time status. 
  • Job sharing. In this type of FWA, two employees split the workload of a single position, each working part-time. There are two approaches, as laid out in this Monster post: “twins model” and “island model.” In the twins model, the partners collaborate on the same projects. In the island model, each person works independently.
  • Compressed work week. This type of flexible work arrangement, which is also referred to as a condensed work week, involves squeezing a full week’s worth of work into a shorter work week. Usually, this means working longer days (i.e. 10 hour-days for four days a week), but in some cases, a compressed work week could mean less weekly hours as well.
  • Remote work. Remote work is an arrangement in which an employee can work from anywhere, as long as they have a stable internet connection. This is an example of location-based flexibility, as opposed to schedule-based flexibility (although it’s common to see an overlap). 
  • Telecommuting. Telecommuting and remote work are often used interchangeably, but the key difference is that a telecommuting employee doesn’t have total freedom when it comes to location. This article in Glassdoor presents an example of a job listing that advertises “remote work” but then states the person must live in a specific region. The writer argues this is an example of telecommuting, not remote work.

For companies seeking more autonomy for their employees, you might also look into management models like ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) and Holocracy. ROWE goes beyond workplace flexibility to establish 100% employee autonomy over how and where they work. Results are the marker of success, rather than close managerial supervision. Likewise, Holocracy leverages the power of self-organizing teams. Both emphasize a company culture of trust between employer and employee.

Other employee retention strategies

We stand behind more flexibility in the workplace, however you implement it in your organization. But flexible work arrangements aren’t the only strategy to improve employee retention. If your company is experiencing high employee turnover, it might help to take a layered approach that involves more than just workplace flexibility.

For example, in the 2020 State of Remote Work report (the same report mentioned above), Owl Labs asked the survey’s participants to rank benefits and perks in order of personal importance. At the top of the list was health insurance, which 88% of participants considered “critically important,” even more important than total compensation and “flexibility in when I work” and “flexibility in where I work.”

Better employee engagement is also closely tied to higher retention. Pay close attention to what your team members need to feel more connected to their work. Is there a need for more professional development opportunities? Does your remote, asynchronous team (with little face-to-face time with co-workers) need more opportunities for team-building? Are you taking action to create an inclusive work environment through DEI initiatives? 

Going forward

Flexible work may not be a cure-all for employee turnover, but it’s a solid place to start! Now more than ever, people are seeking better balance between their professional and personal lives and expect employers to support them in that aim. 

Of course, it would do well for companies to be strategic about their employee retention initiatives. By taking the time to understand what’s driving turnover in their organization, companies can gain a better idea of the type of flexibility their employees need and develop their retention strategies from there. As an employer, it’s also important to understand and adhere to your local and state laws and regulations when it comes to developing and implementing flexible work arrangements.

At the end of the day, flexible work comes down to caring for your employees and offering more opportunities for wellness and work-life balance. Employee retention is undoubtedly vital for your business, but it all starts with caring for your people that help make the business possible.

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