New Survey Results Reveal Moderate Progress on the Work Life Fit Front

Employees are more interested in flexible work arrangements than in getting more money.

American professionals are making modest headway in their effort to obtain more flexible work arrangements from their employers. But change in the area of flexible work is not happening fast enough, according to a recent survey conducted in November 2007, sponsored by consultancy Work+Life Fit.

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More than half (54 percent) of the 900 full-time adult employees polled say they have more choice today in how, when and where they get their work done, compared to a year ago.

Over 50 percent feel more comfortable asking their employers this year about the possibility of working differently—that is, working from a location other than the office, working the same amount of hours but with a more flexible schedule, reducing their hours, or working in a capacity that better utilizes their talents—than they did last year.

The number of workers concerned that their boss would deny their request to work differently or that they'd get fired for making such a request decreased in 2007. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they're afraid their boss would say no compared with 32 percent last year. Twenty percent are afraid of losing their job if they ask their boss about working differently, compared with 28 percent last year.

Men are more comfortable asking their supervisors for flexible arrangements. Thirty-three percent of men were afraid their bosses would say no last year versus 22 percent this year.

"The level of progress over the past year was encouraging to me," says Cali Williams Yost, president of Work+Life Fit. "The topic [of flexible work] is becoming more mainstream."

Room for Improvement

Just 25 percent of respondents say they have the fit or flexibility they need from their employers to balance work and personal demands. But that's more than double the 12 percent who said so last year. Forty-five percent said they don't have more flexibility than last year.

Workers are so dissatisfied with the flexibility arrangements their employers offer that they want the government to intervene. Sixty percent think the next U.S. president should initiate legislation that would make it easier for employers to provide flexible work arrangements to employees. Such legislation could be a tax break for companies that invest in the technology to enable employees to work differently, or give every working citizen the right to request flexibility from their employer, according to Yost.

Yost says professionals want their elected officials to address work life fit because they're afraid to do it themselves. So far, she says, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have been the only two candidates for president to have touched on the topic of flexible work in their campaigns.

Another indicator of employees' unhappiness with their current work arrangements is that 51 percent of them would take working differently over making more money.

"People are going to hit a point where what they give up [in terms of work life balance] for the extra money is not worth it," says Yost.

Of the 51 percent who want to work differently, 35 percent want more flexibility (e.g. flexible work hours or the option to work from home). Of the 35 percent who want more flexible work, just 10 percent want to reduce their schedules by between 1 and 10 hours per week and five percent by more than 10 hours per week. The survey did not ask respondents how many hours they work each week.

The fact that so few people choose to work fewer hours underscores an important point about work life fit, says Yost. "It's not about working less. That's one of the real misconceptions out there [about work life fit]," she says. "People don't really want to work less; they want to work differently."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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