Though retirement plans were in the spotlight during the annual NAPA 401(k) Summit in Nashville, another workplace perk got some attention as a key way to attract and retain talent.

Harry Conaway, the newly appointed chief executive officer of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, underscored the growing popularity of workplace flexibility this week during a keynote address.

“Workers increasingly want more flexibility and more control,” he said. “Workers are choosing to become independent contractors with no benefits in terms of healthcare or retirement. They are doing it for flexibility.”

The increasing popularity of workplace flexibility is one of the biggest trends affecting the workforce, he said. Others include the resistance of baby boomers to retire, more millennials in the workplace, stagnant salaries and recent economic challenges, including 9/11 and the Great Recession, that are impacting decisions by the C-suite.

Numerous studies have backed up Conaway’s assertion. A massive survey of global workers by consulting firm Ernst & Young last year found that flexibility was the top feature workers want in a job, ranked just above competitive pay and benefits. They also cited a lack of it as among the top reasons they would quit.

Conaway reminded employers in the audience to embrace change, noting it’s “important to realize we’re in a transition period” in the workplace.

“Don’t assume that what worked yesterday will necessarily work tomorrow,” Conaway said. “[It’s important] to consider technology, business changes or new and different ideas that may work for your workforce.”

Though it’s impossible to grant every desire of your workers, it’s time, Conaway said, to “rethink our benefits” and “look at what’s necessary to retain your key workers.”

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“We’ve got to discern what workers say they want, what will make them happy and what will make a difference for you the employer.”

“We’ve got to discern what workers say they want, what will make them happy and what will make a difference for you the employer,” he said. “HR is dying to measure the ROI [of every benefit]. They are much more skeptical of workers saying they want this or want that. I think employers need to take more of a financial, or ROI, point of view, to see what is going to drive productivity.”

With flexibility, though, it’s a low cost — or even no-cost — perk to offer employees. All employees need is the tools and the allowance to work when and where they want.

For the most part, Conaway said, workers offered flexible working schedules are less stressed, which has a positive impact on the company, too.
In fact, according FlexJobs data, 97% of employees surveyed reported that a job with flexibility would do positively impact their quality of life. Nearly nine in 10 (87%) said working a job with a flexible work schedule would lower stress levels, and more than three-quarters of them believe it would make them more healthy. Additionally, half said working from home increases productivity because it eliminates distractions and interruptions from colleagues.

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