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Journal Issue: Work and Family Volume 21 Number 2 Fall 2011

Workplace Flexibility: From Research to Action
Ellen Galinsky Kelly Sakai Tyler Wigton

How Widespead Is the Use of Flexibility?

Employers' assumptions about the use of workplace flexibility can be negative and strongly entrenched. Firm managers voice concerns about flexibility at employer conferences and events, typically saying that if they offer workplace flexibility, their employees will take advantage of them by abusing it. "If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile" and "There will be nobody here when we need them" are oft-repeated comments in such discussions.

The 2008 NSCW is one of the first studies to investigate the usage of flexibility nationwide. Asked if they "sometimes" use a variety of types of flexibility, 79 percent of employees with access to traditional flextime report that they sometimes use it; 46 percent of those with access to compressed workweeks report that they sometimes use it; and 64 percent of those allowed to work some of their paid hours at home report that they sometimes do so. These types of arrangements, once adopted, can become predictable so that employers and employees can know when and where employees are working. The study finds that employees make less use of shortnotice flextime: 19 percent never use it, 70 percent use it once a month or less, and only 11 percent use it regularly. Likewise, only 3 percent of those allowed to work mainly at home do so, and 23 percent of those who could work part year adopt that schedule.

Likewise employees take less time off than they are allowed. For example, although they are offered, on average, 15.4 days of paid vacation time, they take 12.9 days on average. Only 60 percent of employees use all of the vacation time available to them in a year. Employees who receive at least five paid days off a year for personal illness on average took 1.9 days for personal illness over the past three months. Eighty-nine percent are satisfied with the amount of time they are given.

Employees who are allowed to volunteer during some of their paid hours spend 4.8 hours a week on these activities—or the equivalent of half a workday (though the 2008 NSCW measure does not indicate whether these hours are on-the-job hours). Finally, among employees who have given birth to or adopted a child in the past six years, mothers take 14.4 weeks off on average, and fathers take 5.4 weeks (though these totals likely include personal and vacation time).

In sum, although a small number of employees may take advantage of their employers by abusing the flexibility they are offered, most appear to use it quite conservatively, indicating that employers' fears about high usage and abuse are largely unfounded.10