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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

The Strategy of Change

To reach small and mid-sized employers (where most U.S. employees work) as well as large employers from all sectors—public, private, for-profit, and not-for-profit—When Work Works took a local and worksite, or community involvement, strategy. The strategy was chosen before the analyses from the 2008 NSCW became available, but in retrospect it could hardly have been better suited to the survey results. In detailing who has most access to workplace flexibility, the 2008 NSCW survey described, again and again, the more advantaged worker20—men, parents, married employees, employees who are better educated, who are salaried, who are managers and professionals, full-timers, employees in the service industries, and those with higher wages. To reach less advantaged employees, who do not yet have and who most need access to flexibility, the project would have to do extensive outreach within communities.

When Work Works was launched as a pilot effort in eight communities in 2005. Having a pilot year made it possible to get the kinks out before expanding—as the project has done every year thereafter. In 2011, the project is ongoing in twenty-eight communities and statewide in five states. Each of these communities and states is asked to take a series of strategies, which grow out of the eight principles of the theory of change.

Strategy 1: Create a Coalition of Community Leaders
Community leaders serve as champions for workplace flexibility. This strategy targets the people who have the power to bring about change with the aim of recognizing, connecting with, and assisting them. Coalitions of leaders involve local "movers and shakers" who represent diverse constituencies, such as local and state government, business councils and employer groups, media, nonprofits, and workforce development. The When Work Works project provides these local leaders with information, tools, and resources to be champions for creating better workplaces in their communities so that they, in turn, can become expected and unexpected spokespersons for change.

Strategy 2: Provide Educational Events within the Community
This strategy speaks to the principle of moving in stages from changing awareness to changing behavior to engaging people in action. The lead organization, in partnership with its coalition of community leaders, hosts a minimum of two educational events on effective and flexible workplaces. This business-to-business strategy integrates workplace flexibility with existing business topics and presents it as a stand-alone live or webinar event. The national When Work Works team has supported this educational effort by providing and suggesting resources and services that can be customized to meet the issues and needs of a particular community or audience.

Strategy 3: Provide Media Outreach within the Community
This strategy is linked to the principle of knowing ahead of time how the public sees this issue. When the When Work Works initiative was launched in 2003, workplace flexibility was seen largely as a benefit either for employees—a perk that was given to an individual (often a woman)—or for employers— a strategy to help businesses manage the ebbs and flows of demand by having "on call" employees who have little certainty about their work schedules.

The challenge has been to reflect solid research—that flexibility can be a component of effective workplaces that can benefit employers, employees, and communities alike. When Work Works has tackled this challenge by sharing research data on the potential links between workplace flexibility and employers, employees, and communities.

The partner communities provide a gateway to local media outlets for targeted efforts, especially because members of the local business media often belong to the leader coalitions and because the communities are responsible for outreach to local media. The When Work Works national team provides support for these efforts and continues to release research that keeps these issues in the news.

Since When Work Works first went into operation, overall media attention to workplace flexibility has grown, and the issue is now being reported less as a "nice-to-have" benefit in human-interest stories, and more as a necessary business tool in hard-news stories.

Strategy 4: Implement the Sloan Awards
This strategy speaks to the principle of knowing what you want people to do. At the center of When Work Works are the Sloan Awards. Worksite-based awards make it possible for organizations to be evaluated on their effective and flexible programs and policies as well as their organizational culture. The Sloan Awards also allow When Work Works to evaluate its progress in bringing about change.

Employers are eligible to apply for the Sloan Awards if they have been in operation for at least one year and have at least ten employees who work from or report to the applying worksite. Employers can reapply every year, whether or not they win. The application process takes place in two rounds. In Round I, employers self-nominate by completing a questionnaire about their worksite's flexibility practices, policies, and the supportiveness of its work culture. Responses to the questionnaire are then measured against norms that have been derived from Families and Work Institute's ongoing nationally representative study, the National Study of Employers. To qualify for Round II, employers must rank in the top 20 percent of employers nationally.

In Round II employees are asked about their access to and use of flexibility, the aspects of the workplace culture that support their ability to work flexibly, whether they experience "jeopardy" when working flexibly, and their access to other ingredients of an effective workplace. Of those surveyed, a minimum of 40 percent must respond (the average response rate is 52 percent).

On the basis of both the employer and employee questionnaires, an overall score is computed, with two-thirds of the score based on employees' responses. There is no minimum or maximum number of award recipients. All applying companies have access to technical assistance and receive an individualized benchmarking report that compares their responses on the surveys with those of employers nationally, of applicant companies, and of winners. If they participate in Round II, their benchmarking report also compares their employee data with the 2008 NSCW. All winning companies are written up in an annual Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work, which describes and promotes best practices in workplace flexibility.

Strategy 5: Specify Outcomes and Measure Results
The principle of detailing expected outcomes, assessing results, and making changes informs this strategy. Every year, When Work Works sets goals and measures itself against them, making changes as necessary.