Ellen Galinsky, Kelly Sakai, and Tyler Wigton explore the “time famine” among American workers—the continuing sense among employees of not having enough time to manage the multiple responsibilities of work and personal and family life. Noting that large shares of U.S. employees report feeling the need for greater workplace flexibility to enable them to take better care of family responsibilities, the authors examine a large-scale community-engagement initiative to increase workplace flexibility voluntarily.
Using the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce as a primary source of data, the authors begin with an overview of the prevalence of flexibility in today’s American workplace. They track which categories of employees have access to various flexibility options, as well as the extent to which employees with access to various types of flexibility use those options. Findings from the study indicate that the majority of employees want flexibility but that access to it varies, with more advantaged employees—those who are well educated, have high salaries, and work full time, for example—being doubly advantaged in having greater access to flexibility.
A number of employers, say the authors, tend to be skeptical of the value of workplace flexibility and to fear that employees will abuse it if it is offered. But the study data reveal that most employees use flexibility quite conservatively. When the authors use their nationally representative data set to investigate correlations between access to workplace flexibility and a range of workplace outcomes especially valued by employers—employee engagement, job satisfaction, retention, and health—they find that employers as well as employees can benefit from flexibility.
Finally, the authors discuss When Work Works, a large, national community-based initiative under way since 2003 to increase voluntary adoption of workplace flexibility. The authors detail the conceptual basis of the project’s design, noting its emphasis on flexibility as one component of effective workplaces that can benefit employers, employees, and communities alike. Galinsky, Sakai, and Wigton conclude by drawing lessons learned from the project and briefly discussing the implications of using research to bring about workplace change.