At the 2010 Workplace Flexibility Forum, a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers was released. It found that companies with flexible work arrangements actually had lower turnover and absenteeism, higher productivity, and healthier workers. While addressing the Forum, President Obama said, “Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses. It affects the strength of our economy – whether we’ll create the workplaces and jobs of the future we need to compete in today’s global economy.” In the nearly nine years since this Forum took place, our country’s workplaces have not made nearly enough progress in providing increased flexibility for employees.

Werk conducted a survey of over 1,500 white-collar workers in the United States to determine if there is a gap between workplace flexibility supply and demand. I imagine none of us are surprised to learn that, yes, they found a huge gap: 96% of employees said they need flexibility in their job, yet only 47% reported having access to flexibility. That’s a gap of 54%! The gap is even wider for women in the workplace, with only 34% of women reporting adequate access to flexibility; balancing their career and additional household/caregiving responsibilities makes flexibility even more important. 

Our current workplace architecture has been in place for decades – a rigid set of out-dated rules requiring employees to be physically present at their desks for eight hours each day, catering to the success of employees with no outside (i.e., family) responsibilities or commitments. One-third of employees reported that the structure of their workday makes it challenging for them to be the type of parent they want to be.

Companies that refuse to let go of this culture face many negative consequences. Their employee retention rates are much lower, requiring them to hire, onboard, and train new employees much more frequently than companies offering flexible benefits. This is costly to these companies in both bottom-line dollars and in intellectual capital. 

Werk’s study revealed that employees who receive flexibility in their jobs are much better advocates for their employers, with significantly higher employee net promoter scores (eNPS) than their rigid counterparts. On average, the eNPS of companies offering flexibility are 48 points higher, which can be linked directly to increased profitability. In addition, employees feel that their ideas are valued more and are more apt to believe their company fosters diverse points of view when flexibility is part of the company’s culture.

In her new book, Becoming, Michelle Obama remembers the moment she realized how important flexibility was. Her daughter, Sasha, was a baby and she was interviewing for a job at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “I can’t remember the circumstances exactly, whether I couldn’t find a babysitter that day or whether I’d bothered to try. Sasha was little, though, and still needed a lot from me. She was a fact of my life – a cute, burbling, impossible-to-ignore fact – and something compelled me almost literally to put her on the table for this discussion. Here is me and here is also my baby. I put my cards and baby on the table at an interview. It seemed a miracle my would-be boss appeared to get it. If he had any reservations listening to me explain how flexitime was a necessity while I bounced Sasha on my lap, hoping all the while her diaper wouldn’t leak, he didn’t express them. I walked out of the interview feeling pleased and fairly certain I’d be offered the job. But no matter how it panned out, I knew I’d at least done something good for myself in speaking up about my needs. There was power, I felt, in just saying it out loud.” 

The data is here, and at every turn it shows that flexibility is a must for today’s workforce. Many companies are beginning to have the conversation about how to offer employees the flexibility that they need, but we need women and caregivers to follow Michelle Obama’s lead and speak up about their needs. There are approximately ten million stay-at-home moms with Bachelor’s degrees who have exited the workforce entirely to focus on their caregiving responsibilities – if we can leverage their knowledge, skills and expertise by offering flexible employment opportunities we won’t just Stay In The Game…we’ll win it.