Technology and a changing workforce have reshaped the traditional office in many ways, but they haven’t gotten rid of it.
While many companies embrace flexible work schedules, telecommuting and the home office, other employers want their workers where they can see them – on the job 9 to 5. This has slowed a shift toward a less-regimented workweek that many human resource professionals say could improve efficiency and employee morale.
“I am seeing two competing schools of thought and it really depends on the employer,” said Diane Buerger, president of the Human Resources Management Association of Rhode Island about the push for a flexible workplace. “Some are embracing the opportunity to work as flexible as possible, while others believe that their employees are working when they are in the workplace, but not at home.”
Workplace flexibility takes many forms beyond telecommuting and variable hours.
Both the national and Rhode Island chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management support workplace flexibility and are working with groups including the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce to raise awareness of its advantages.
But according to survey results from SHRM’s 2011 Employee Benefits Research Report, over the last five years the percentage of American companies offering benefits such as flex time, shift flexibility, a compressed workweek and even casual dress days have remained flat or declined slightly.
Human resources managers say this could at least partly be a result of the recession, which forced many companies to shed workers and force longer hours out of those that remained.
In fact, over the same 2007-to-2011 period, a wide range of primary and fringe benefits were cutback as companies desperate to reduce costs looked first to ways other than layoffs, pay cuts or furloughs.
“They look to cut the nonhuman stuff first,” said Lisa Kilduff, vice president of the SHRM Rhode Island chapter, about why benefits have been slashed since the recession.