Finding Balance: Why workplace flexibility? Why now?

What does your business really need to survive the current economic downturn?

Committed, resilient workers who will stick by you and make some sacrifices during slow downs and hard times? The ability to keep the morale of the people you work with high even though they are watching their 401(k)s diminish? Increased productivity and output? The ability to continue to attract new talent in spite of a strapped budget?

If you look to the research, you’ll discover a clear path to increasing all these variables in your shop during hard times, and it may just be the ingredient you hadn’t added to the mix: workplace flexibility.

The critical business strategy of workplace flexibility is supported by more than 15 years of solid research, which requires you to take a hard look at how you manage your work load, your recruitment and retention, and the demographic diversity of your workforce.

It also requires that you get out of your office and really listen to the real-life needs of your employees who are facing increasing pressures in their out-of-work lives.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Labor, labor unions and both major candidates for president promoted workplace flexibility, along with the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. They all know that history has taught us that the resilience of the American worker has and will bring us out of dark times into economic recovery, and that increased workplace flexibility is the fastest way to foster that resiliency.

Flexibility is a practical strategy that involves a dynamic partnership between you and your co-workers. It can include, but isn’t limited to:

• Flexible hours that allow workers to get their job done and still have time for family and personal life needs.

• A compressed workweek that enables employees to work allotted hours over fewer days.

• Flexible leave, which allows for paid time off to care for children or aging parents, personal illness, personal issues and parental leave for birth, adoption or care of a foster child

• Flexible career-planning, which allows for phased-out retirement, as well as professional-development leaves and sabbaticals.

‘When Work Works’

Developing such a strategy can inoculate your business against the severe effects of the current economic crisis.

In national studies, businesses that have adopted flex-options have saved real money by redistributing willing workers’ time. They’ve seen increases in both worker and client satisfaction, retention of well-trained and productive employees and a remarkable increase in employee morale. They become companies whose internal and external perception is one of vibrancy, effectiveness and reliability.

Starting in January 2009, you can receive both free technical assistance and a chance for national recognition as a Sloan Award winner for workplace flexibility, thanks to a new collaboration between and among the Manchester YWCA Family Education Collaborative, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, NHBR and many other New Hampshire partners.

The “When Work Works” program recently invited Manchester to be the first New England area to participate in its national promotion of workplace flexibility. Through the YWCA initiative, which includes solid support from its partner, UNH Cooperative Extension, you can receive free technical assistance, training and even a comprehensive report ranking your business against a huge national database and making specific suggestions for flexibility improvement in your shop.

All you have to do is to participate in the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility. Applications for the program will be available after the first of the year at

For more information about this program in New Hampshire, contact UNH Cooperative Extension educator Sharon Cowen, the New Hampshire project director for When Work Works by e-mail,, or by phone, 603-641-6060.

Dr. Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and teaches in the UNH Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008 or