The Joy of Flex

March 1, 2004
It wasn’t exactly a smooth transition. When three companies came together to form Cendant Mobility, a provider of global relocation services in Danbury, Connecticut, morale was low and turnover--which should have been under 10 percent--was a discouraging 30 percent. Each of the smaller companies had its own distinct operational model and corporate culture, which resulted in 18 months of post-merger turmoil as Cendant attempted to unite people, facilities and egos.

    The smallest of the three companies viewed the transaction as a merger, whereas the largest considered it a takeover. "We lost a lot of people who weren’t sure they wanted to work for the new company," says Rosemary Butterly, the company’s director of human resources.

    To address its problems, Cendant established a Flexible Work Options program that saved the company millions of dollars, energized its 2,300 employees and brought turnover down to less than 10 percent. Cendant is the 2004 Optimas Award winner for Competitive Advantage for creating an approach to recruiting and retention that ensured solid business results.

    The process began in 1999, when management determined that every 1 percent reduction in turnover would generate a six-figure savings in recruitment, hiring, orientation, training and lost productivity, says Amy Meichner, vice president of human resources. Cendant conducted an employee-attitude survey to identify problems and found that morale and loyalty were very low. The survey also showed that the second-biggest reason for turnover was a lack of flexibility to help employees create work/life balance. Seventy percent of Cendant’s workforce is female, their average age is 36 and most are in the midst of having and raising children. A Flexible Work Options program was at the heart of Cendant’s effort to increase retention, motivate employees and improve recruiting.

    To create a successful program, Butterly and Meichner surveyed the competition in geographic areas where Cendant operates--Connecticut, Texas, California and Illinois--to see how these companies handled flexible-work programs. Cendant believed that, for its program to be successful, it had to get employee input on changes that they thought would support work/life balance.

    As a result of the findings, Cendant’s employees are now offered daily flexible start- and end-work times and consolidated schedules, with several combinations of work days and days off including working four long days with a fifth day off. The program is managed at the department level so that different groups can determine the best approach for their particular business segment. Employees also wanted, and now receive, wellness programs that include on-site mammograms and flu shots, as well as educational programs about such topics as single parenting, elder care and quitting smoking.

    In addition to flexible work schedules, the company also offers educational seminars and invites vendors on site to showcase services and to conduct screening for things like blood pressure or vision.

    Since the flexible-work options and wellness programs began, savings have been substantial. Turnover has fallen to 9 percent, and Cendant saved $8.6 million for every percentage point it shrank.

Workforce Management, March 2004, pp. 38-40 -- Subscribe