Employers are offering fewer "hard" benefits - pensions have gone the way of the dodo and 401ks are getting drained by bad investments. Health insurance benefits are being cut and employees are often being asked to do more with less, all for the same stagnant wage.
The good news is that "soft" benefits are on the rise. Employers have figured out that they must retain top talent, and doing so in ways that don't cost actual money is a win-win situation. The most common soft benefit by far is flextime - and it's grown to be very important to a lot of people.
Many Different Options
The term "flextime" is vague. It can mean a 4-day work week, or alternating 4-day and 5-day weeks. It might mean looser hours outside the typical 9-5 range or it might mean having the option to work from home part of the time.
At some companies, it means all of those things. Some very progressive offices (usually not customer-based) allow employees to set their own schedule - as long as the work gets done and everyone's always reachable by phone, there's no problem. As it turns out, this means the world to those lucky employees.
Many Different Reasons
Workers offered flextime consistently rate it above things like retirement benefits and insurance, in terms of importance and incentive to stay with a company.
Regardless of the company's actual reason for instituting flextime policies, employees see it as a gesture of goodwill and recognition of the importance of family life versus blind subservience. Happy employees tend to reward employers with loyalty and productivity.
It's not just novelty, however - a 9-5 job gets in the way of so much. From working from home when your kid's sick or the cable guy's scheduled to come to working 10-7 to turn your hour-long commute into a 15-minute commute, flextime just works.
Another popular reason for flextime is continuing education - if you could take time off from work at any time to go to class, wouldn't you be a bit more likely to go back to school? You get an education without having to take late-night classes, and your employer gets a more valuable worker. Again, it's a win-win.
For the Worker
As great as flextime is, great privilege comes with great responsibility. If your employer offers flextime, it's not a free pass to slack off. When you say you'll be working at home, be working at home.
Make every effort to be reachable by phone and email during regular business hours, and be willing to head into the office in an emergency. If your particular version of flextime involves fewer hours at the office, make absolutely sure your work gets done at your usual caliber and on deadline.
Just because you can come and go as you please doesn't give you license to turn your 8-hour per day job into a "when I feel like it" job. Your responsibilities don't change with your schedule. If your office culture requires you to put in the hours, put in the hours - after all, you're lucky that they're flexible.
For the Employer
Before you offer flextime, come up with a concrete plan. Who will be eligible? What are the rules? What will change regarding day-to-day operations? What's the difference between a working-from-home day and a sick day? It is imperative that you lay your expectations out for your employees.
Have policies in place for possible flextime abuse - what constitutes abuse, and who determines this? Almost every study shows that flextime boosts employee productivity, but put some kind of rubric in place beforehand so you have concrete ways to measure its effect on your particular company.
Experiment with different types of flextime to find what suits your company best. Happy workers are productive workers, and productive companies are successful companies. What's best for your employees is what's best for your company - at least in this case.