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Flex-Work Mind-set Evolves as Companies Look to Give Employees More Options

May 21, 2012
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You've come a long way, flex-work.

Just a few decades ago, most corporate cultures centered on face time. Workers asking for nonstandard hours or to telecommute faced skepticism if not outright derision. But flexible work arrangements, originally introduced to accommodate working mothers, are becoming commonplace for both men and women. Employers report the effectiveness of work-life balance programs as a recruiting tool, and increased productivity and satisfaction from participants.

Christine Amalfe, a New York City-based lawyer, says the work-life policies of her firm, Gibbons Law, have allowed her to enjoy a successful 20-year career with several steps up the corporate ladder. During those 20 years she took maternity leave three times and took advantage of reduced hours and child-care leave policies, with no fear that her ability to be promoted would be affected.

Her flexible work schedule now allows her to care for her elderly parents and attend games and school events with her three children, ages 10, 15 and 18. She also finds time to volunteer for causes that are important to her.

The firm's technology initiatives have allowed lawyers to become truly mobile, Amalfe says. "The technology allows me to leave the office, remain in touch with my clients and colleagues, but also to share important family time."

At American Medical Systems Inc., a medical device manufacturer in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a flexible "Lifeworks" program was adopted after a trial period showed that participating employees were more productive and felt more overall satisfaction with their lives.

David McGinty, global real estate senior manager at American Medical Systems, says employees are held accountable with online score cards visible to all and are expected to collaborate with members of their teams. But where and when they choose to work is up to them. "We understand that people's lives ebb and flow," he says. "There are different rhythms for different people."

That's not to say all organizations have adopted smoothly to flexible work programs. Many managers find it hard to adjust from face time to a focus on results. For example, getting Lifeworks up to speed required a lot of training and orientation, says McGinty. "It's a process because it's such a big change for some people."

Susan Hauser is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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