The days of richly funded employer-sponsored benefits may be over -- at least for now. We are all too familiar with the rising cost of health care and its large impact on what employers can afford in other benefit areas and what they have to pass on to their employees. A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 77 percent of companies say the 2011 economy has damaged employee benefit offerings by a 5 percent increase from last year. 

As benefits shrink, employers rethink flexible work options

The days of richly funded employer-sponsored benefits may be over -- at least for now. We are all too familiar with the rising cost of health care and its large impact on what employers can afford in other benefit areas and what they have to pass on to their employees. A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 77 percent of companies say the 2011 economy has damaged employee benefit offerings by a 5 percent increase from last year.

And there's more. As the economy improves, employees who once feared dipping a toe into an uncertain job search pool are beginning to revisit their employment situation. According to the What's Working study by Mercer's employee research group, one of every two U.S. employees are actively looking for work or have mentally "checked out." And 32 percent of U.S. employees are seriously considering leaving their job, which is up from 23 percent in 2005. Another 21 percent don't plan to leave but are unhappy and unengaged in their work.

With higher benefit costs and increasingly disengaged employees, how can an employer compensate and compete for talent? The answer for many is getting creative through offering "no-cost" perks such as flex time, telework, special summer hours or Fridays off.

"Work-life balance is a driver of employee engagement," says Diane Cothran, Engagement and Diversity leader at Ceridian. "If you have a focused plan around work-life balance, which includes options such as workplace flexibility programs, the opportunity to increase employee engagement is stronger."

"With shrinking benefits packages and increasing health care costs, employers can look to flexible scheduling as a recruitment and retention tool," adds Jennifer Piliero, senior product manager, Ceridian LifeWorks. "It is more important than ever for employers to promote work-life programs, flexibility and telework."

Of all the flexible work strategies, telework is becoming more accepted in U.S. corporations as technology allows virtual work arrangements. Employers and employees alike reap the financial benefits from cost savings. The government is taking the lead as demonstrated by President Obama signing the Telework Enhancement Act in December 2010, which mandates that government agencies step up their use of telework.

Closing the Gap
Employers also will need to address generational workforce trends when creating flexible work arrangements. Many baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- won't automatically retire at the age of 65 but will stay in the workforce for financial or personal reasons. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) estimates that 69 percent of Baby Boomers will work past retirement age. To entice them to stay in the workforce, and allow time to transfer valuable skills to younger workers before they retire, most experts suggest that employers provide flexible work options.

On the other hand, Generation Y workers (born from 1980 to the late 1990s) are entering the workforce with new ideas about work-life balance. Research suggests these workers have a greater desire to pursue personal interests in addition to their career.

Before selecting flexible work options, an employer should consider employee feedback, the nature of employees' work and implementing options in phases.

"Flexible work arrangements depend upon the role the employee plays within the company," Cothran explains. "If an employee is a service support individual and customers call during key business hours, the opportunity is not there. If the employee's job isn't tied to external customers, there would be more opportunity. Companies also need to be consistent with their flexible work policies. When they are, employees will be more committed to the organization."

Workplace flexibility is becoming a vital part of organizations' talent management plans. How do you get a program started in your company or improve the flexibility you already offer? Ceridian can help. As companies struggle to do more with less, building flexibility and efficiency into workforce management strategies is critical to a healthy bottom line and more engaged employees. Ceridian Dayforce Workforce Management is a state-of-the-art workforce planning and labor scheduling tool. Your company can manage flexible work arrangements while saving time, cutting costs and aligning employee performance with business goals.