When it comes to vacation, travel preferences fall all across a wide spectrum. On one end are people who have their entire itinerary planned months in advance, with no wiggle room for last-minute adventures or downtime. On the other are the free-spirited adventurers who can hop on a flight the day of, making up their plans as they go.
Somewhere in between these two extremes are the majority of travelers. They plan ahead and build some structure into their trips, but also leave room for flexibility and freedom.
Many people are looking for the same type of flexibility at work, too. They’re turning away from the rigid 9-to-5 and daily commutes, exploring alternate working possibilities. During the Great Resignation in 2021, McKinsey found that inflexible work schedules were a major driver of people quitting their jobs.
But true flexibility in the workplace isn’t just about the time of day that people work or when they’re allowed to take vacation. It’s a mindset shift that grants both team members and companies the opportunity to focus on business goals while prioritizing their wellbeing, inside and outside of work.
What is Flexibility in the Workplace?
Workplace flexibility is an arrangement between companies and employees that allows for leniency to get the job done. It covers the way tasks are delegated and completed, and provides more autonomy to employees in managing their projects, as well as taking into account an individual’s skills when assigning work.
Flexible workplaces recognize that different approaches can lead to improved outcomes, for the employee and the company. They can vary in their setup, but include approaches like:
- Offering flexible work hours
- Hiring remote workers
- Shifting roles so people can split time on different projects or in multiple departments
A flexible workplace also takes into account an employee’s individual needs and goals. Some employees, for example, may need more days working from home to take care of something in their personal lives, while others might enjoy collaborating with coworkers face-to-face. Flexibility allows the company to consider and accommodate different preferences so that everyone can find a balance that works for them.
Five Benefits of a Flexible Workplace
Flexible work arrangements allow teams and organizations to focus on productivity and collaboration while prioritizing individual wellbeing. Some of the benefits of flexibility you might see include:
- Increased productivity: Flexibility at work gives people the chance to do their job better. They can work when they are most active and in a way that works best for them. Flexible working hours was the number one reason why workers reported increased productivity, with 43% choosing this response in Gartner’s 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey.
- Improved employee engagement and retention: With more flexibility at work, people have more choices and control over how they do their job. They’re not only more likely to stay with their current companies, but they’re more likely to stay engaged in their roles as well. That can lead to lower absenteeism rates and greater collaboration between team members.
- Reduced stress levels: When employees know they don’t have to be at a certain place or time every day, they can manage their schedules more efficiently. Knowing that there is flexibility in the workplace reduces stress and helps employees improve their own wellbeing. The ability to shift their job schedules decreased the likelihood of work-related stress by 20% and improved job satisfaction by 62%, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
- Widens the talent pool: Allowing remote or flexible work opens up companies to the possibility of hiring across markets. Companies have greater access to top talent who may not be able to commit to traditional working hours, locations, or long-distance commutes. They can tap into a larger pool of potential candidates, with different skills and experiences that can benefit the team.
- Lowered costs: A flexible work environment can also produce cost savings. Companies can save on expenses like office space and products by allowing their workforce to work remote or hybrid. And that productivity bump also directly contributes to the bottom line.
Seven Examples of Workplace Flexibility
Here are some initiatives that flexible employers to facilitate a flexible working environment:
Allowing employees to work from any location gives them freedom and autonomy while still being able to connect with colleagues and contribute to their team.
Remote work, or telecommuting, usually consists of companies allowing employees to work from any location in which the company can operate, with access to the same tools and resources they would have in the office. This type of flexible arrangement can be used on a full-time or part-time basis, depending on the needs of the company and employee. Working hours in this setup can be the traditional 9 to 5 or customizable.
This approach gives employees more control over their own schedule and allows them to choose when they start and finish their day. It can be used in a variety of ways, such as allowing certain days or weeks off, or setting up an arrangement where people shift their hours around to fit their needs.
An employee with a flexible schedule might structure their day in a variety of ways. They can choose to start and end their work day at times that are most convenient or productive for them, whether it be early in the morning or late at night. A working parent could choose to sign off in the afternoon to pick up their kids from school, for example. Another employee who does their most creative work at night could work freely during those hours instead of trying to force output in the afternoon hours.
This is a combination of remote and in-person work, with employees either alternating days or splitting their time between the office and at home. Hybrid work options can be a great way to offer the benefits of remote working while still having some in-person interaction.
This can help maintain company culture, with team members getting together periodically for tasks that require face-to-face collaboration or brainstorming. It also provides a space for team building and more organic interactions, which can be hard to replicate when people are working remotely.
Flexible time off (FTO)
Employees can also be given more control over their vacation, sick time, and other leave with flexible time off. This allows them to have more freedom in their calendar without stressing about how much time off they’ve accrued.
FTO can give employees the option to take time off throughout the year, depending on their personal needs or wellbeing. It can also be used to help balance out workloads and team coverage. This type of system can replace traditional PTO policies and still give people the freedom they need while ensuring that there is always someone available to handle work tasks.
Companies can offer employees sabbaticals where they get a few months to pursue a professional or personal project.
The length and structure of sabbaticals can vary from company to company, but typically involve people taking a few weeks or months off to focus on learning new skills, exploring different countries, or just unplugging. Companies can benefit from the creativity and renewed energy that their employees bring back when they return.
Companies might allow employees to split a single full-time job and share the responsibilities between two people. This arrangement gives both team members more flexibility in their work schedule, allowing them to take on additional roles or work part-time.
Four-day work week
Companies around the world are experimenting with four-day, 32-hour work weeks. The world’s largest trial of 3,000 employees was a success, with companies seeing a 35% average increase in revenue and workers reporting improved wellbeing. Fifty-six of the 61 participating companies said they would continue with the four-day work week.
A Flexible Approach is Just One Piece of the Wellbeing Puzzle
Flexibility can help employees feel relaxed, prioritize their work-life wellness, and take care of their personal needs. At the same time, it can help companies increase productivity, employee retention, and talent recruitment.
Benefits that help people thrive are increasingly in demand by today’s top talent. Many employees who quit their jobs in 2021, for instance, said that it was important that they felt valued by their manager, valued by their organization, and a sense of belonging, according to McKinsey. There’s an opportunity for you to improve connectivity and show recognition for your team members’ hard work.
A comprehensive employee wellness program is another way to show employees you care about them while increasing productivity and profitability – 70% of workers enrolled in a workplace wellness program reported higher job satisfaction after enrollment. Talk to one of our wellbeing specialists to learn more!
- De Smet, Aaron, Dowling, Bonnie, Mugayar-Baldocchi, Marino, and Schaninger, Bill. (September 8, 2021.) ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours. McKinsey. Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/great-attrition-or-great-attraction-the-choice-is-yours
- Goasduff, Laurence. (June 9, 2021.) Digital Workers Say Flexibility Is Key to Their Productivity. Gartner. Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/digital-workers-say-flexibility-is-key-to-their-productivity
- Hickman, Adam, and Robison, Jennifer. (January 24, 2020.) Is Working Remotely Effective? Gallup Research Says Yes. Gallup. Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/283985/working-remotely-effective-gallup-research-says-yes.aspx
- Ray TK, Pana-Cryan R. Work Flexibility and Work-Related Well-Being. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 21;18(6):3254. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18063254. PMID: 33801122; PMCID: PMC8004082. Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8004082/
- Timsit, Annabelle. (February 21, 2023.) A four-day workweek pilot was so successful most firms say they won’t go back. Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2023/02/21/four-day-work-week-results-uk/
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.