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Telecommuting Proves to be a Worthy Work/Life Policy
Last Updated: 10/10/06

Today, companies of all sizes are helping their employees manage a better balance between work and home responsibilities by offering telecommuting, and other benefits, according to a survey by the Human Resources & Investor Solutions division of the Mellon Financial Corporation.

In comparing 2003 results to its 1996 survey, telecommuting showed the most significant increase of all of the work-life benefits offered by employers - with 50 percent of the companies surveyed offering it to select employees, a dramatic 455 percent increase from the 1996 survey.

"Work/life programs help employees manage the more complex problems they face at work and at home," said Allison Levin of Mellon. "Our survey of 600 employers found the most commonly cited reasons for offering work/life programs are: to enhance recruitment efforts (73 percent), raise morale (74 percent), and remain competitive (72 percent)."

Companies who offer...
Telecommuting, work-at-home arrangements
Compressed work weeks
Part-time (fewer than 1,000 hours per year)
Family sick days
Domestic partner benefits
Work-related tuition reimbursement
General resource and referral services
Unpaid family leave beyond legislated requirements

"These programs are not just warm, fuzzy programs. They're intended to enable employees to be more productive— to have better attendance, and to remove those distractions from their lives that would otherwise be significant drains on their mental and physical energies," said Randy Johnson, director of Motorola's North America benefits. "It's also expensive to replace employees, especially ones that have been trained and have become a real value to our organization."

These corporate initiatives are rooted in basic management philosophy that employees are hardworking and dedicated, not lazy and inclined to slack off, said Candi Lange, director of workforce partnering for Indianapolis pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. "We bring in such smart people who are responsible for so much important work in the company," she said, "our only question is can our business needs be supported with you working this option?'"

The company lets all its knowledge workers, employees whose knowledge, skills, and experiences form a company's intellectual capital, work from home occasionally. In addition, they permit a smaller number of employees to keep their primary offices at home. Such telecommuting generally had been considered a concession to work-life balance, but these days, the company is also thinking about it as a means to drive productivity, according to Lange.

A telecommuting study conducted by Washington State University's Energy Program showed telecommuting and other work-life benefits increased worker productivity and provided greater job satisfaction. Employees in the Washington State study said telecommuting improved their morale (79 percent), made them more willing to stay in their current positions (76 percent), increased their productivity (74 percent) and helped them better manage both work and family issues (72 percent).

"One of the things that we've found is that work-life balance is an increasingly important factor as to whether people stay with a company or take another job elsewhere," said Robert Morgan, president of Spherion Pacific Enterprises LLC's human capital consulting.

Spherion conducted a study in which 52 percent of employees indicated they would change jobs when the economy improves. Morgan explained that work fulfillment and balance are a high priority to that group, whereas 35 percent of the work force said that success and moving up the ladder were their priorities.
  • 59 percent of workers either needed or wanted flex-time work schedules
  • 50 percent wanted the opportunity to telecommute
  • 33 percent wanted paid time off for community service.
The rest of the work-life wish list included sabbaticals (25 percent), on-site day care and job sharing (15 percent).

"Once senior management embraced concepts [such as telecommuting and flex-time] and implemented these work-life policies, it didn't take long for us to realize the paybacks with the business running just as smoothly as it did before," Morgan said.

Scott Cohen, New England practice leader of organizational effectiveness for Watson Wyatt, verified the Mellon survey findings indicating that increased flexibility has taken hold in companies across the country. Cohen said that when Fortune magazine first published its list of the 100 best companies to work for in the 1980s, work-life benefits were almost non-existent, with only two companies offering a compressed workweek. That changed drastically by 2000, when 89 of the 100 companies on the list offered a compressed, four-day workweek, 87 offered telecommuting, 72 provided for job sharing and 70 offered flexible schedules.

"Essentially, it makes good financial business sense to do this kind of thing," Cohen said. "I don't know of any jobs that are 9 to 5 anymore. I think organizations realized over the years that to get the most out of their best people, they have to meet them halfway."

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