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New study aims to get to the bottom of flexible working

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New study aims to get to the bottom of flexible working

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Flexible working is one of those peculiarities of the modern workplace.  I wrote not so long ago about the dichotomy that sees something that is widely believed to be beneficial to both employee and employer still viewed with a large dollop of suspicion.  This feeling was emphasised by a study looking at flexible working habits in academia, which found that it is generally something that researchers are scared to undertake for fear of the impact it will have on their careers.

A new study published recently by researchers from the University of Minnesota set out to bring some empirical evidence to the table.  The researchers observed hundreds of employees at a leading IT company over a six month period to try and understand more about the way they worked.  Each of the employees included in the study were permitted by their employer to work when and where they wanted.

The findings should not perhaps come as that big a surprise.  Employees given this sense of control over their working lives were generally less conflicted about their work-life balance, especially for those who were working parents.

“We see a variety of changes that come together in the same direction—employees feeling more control over when and where they work, employees feeling more supported by their managers, employees more likely to say they have enough time with their family and less likely to say work is interfering with family,” the researchers say.

The study compared various aspects of employee engagement and productivity between the flexible working group and a control group who were required to work a typical five day, 45 hour week, located primarily in the office.  The findings are certainly interesting for anyone wishing to embark down this road with a degree of certainty.

For instance, it emerged that 35% of employees offered the possibility of flexible working snapped it up.  For those in this group, this meant an average of nearly 20 hours a week spent working from home.  Interestingly, there was no evidence that this increase in flexible working, especially amongst working parents, resulted in non-parents having to pick up any slack, mainly because there was no slack to pick up.

Equally interesting however, is the revelation that despite the decent initial findings from the pilot study, the company involved were not prepared to take the project any further.  It has also emerged that the project has since been scrapped, due it seems to a change in leadership at the company.

The researchers suggest that future research will explore issues surrounding issues such as whether giving employees control over work schedules might hurt the bottom line.  This is despite the original paper showing no differences in productivity or performance levels between those working flexibly and the control group in the office.

It seems that there is still work to be done to convince people to make the shift to a more flexible and social organization.

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