CPA Exam Candidates Flexibility

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What Really Works: Lessons Learned from 25 Years of Workplace Flexibility

Working  Mother   25th  Anniversary  Research  is   a series of  studies targeting  the key practice  areas impacting working mothers today. Produced by the Working  Mother  Media Research  Institute,  these studies  use  data  culled  from  25   years  of   the Working  Mother  100   Best  Companies  plus  new research to present the best practices of today and marching orders for tomorrow with goal of making all   employers  family-friendly.  Learn  more about the  Working Mother Media Research  Institute  at

Dear Readers,

We cordially welcome you to Working Mother Media’s Work-Life Congress. IBM is a proud sponsor of Working Mother’s What Really Works: Lessons Learned From 25 Years of Workplace Flexibility Leadership.

The world of work is rapidly changing. At IBM we are focused on the same business objectives we’ve always focused on.  The way each individual gets there may be a little different, but our commitment hasn’t changed. If mobility is what’s needed, we’ll be mobile. If flexibility gets the job  done, we’ll be flexible. It’s results we’re after, not a process. Mobility enables a globally deployed workforce to conduct business, support clients and work efficiently in teams anywhere, anytime.

The Work-Life Congress brings thought leaders together to share research, best practices and recognize the Working Mother 100  Best Companies for Working Mothers. We are honored to partner with Working Mother in this exciting research and we salute each of the 100  Best Companies for their leadership and dedication in the work/life arena.

Thank you for continuing the flexibility dialogue around the world. Regards,

Ron  Glover

Vice President, Diversity and Workforce Programs

IBM Corporation

Flexible work has certainly come a long way. In 1986, when the first Working Mother Best Companies was published, it featured only 30 companies, and flexible work was just beginning to show up on the radar. Today, the initiative has grown to 100 Best Companies, all of which offer significant flexible work initiatives. We’ve learned a great deal about the role of flexible work over the last quarter of a century and how it’s important when studying for the CPA exam, and the initiative has both responded to social and business changes — and helped shaped them.

According to Ted Childs, principal of Ted Childs Inc., a New York-based workforce diversity con- sulting firm, one of the primary lessons learned over the last 25 years from the Working Mother

100 Best Companies is that “flexibility works and it can be a powerful manager/employee tool to achieve business results, not a barrier to them” as was the original perception in many organizations. Kathie Lingle, director of Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP), an Arizona-based professional association for compensation, benefits and total rewards, goes further, saying that over the years we’ve learned that flexible work can be “the most subversive, culture-rattling initiative that takes

place in the workplace [because]  it’s not about programs or what appears on the surface. It’s about the culture, which can be very hard to change.” Fundamentally, says Lingle, flexibility is a struggle over control. “Managers don’t want to give it up and employees want more of it — and it takes the right kind of leadership to make it clear that rigid, inequitable behavior is not acceptable.”

Companies that lead on work-place flexibility

also know now that one size does not fit all. “Requiring all employees to work from home is as unproductive as not allowing any employees

to work from home,” says Patricia Lewis, vice president of Human Resources, Diversity and Employee Experience at IBM, the global infor- mation technology company. Sandy Burud, PhD, Chief Knowledge Officer of FlexPaths, a flexible work software and solutions company based in New Jersey, agreed, noting that a one-size mental- ity doesn’t work for work-life practitioners, either. “The biggest lesson we’ve learned over this quarter of a century is that flexible work must move out of its HR silo and be driven by different stakeholders for the good of the business and in order to have the support of the leaders.”

What is flexibility? It’s a question whose answer has evolved over the past 25 years. Initially, it was considered a one-way street, an accommodation typically granted only to high-performing employees — most often women — at the last moment, to avoid losing them. And in nearly all cases, flexibility was granted almost exclusively to help working mothers manage their childcare needs. Today, as Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute (FWI), a New York-based nonprofit research organization, points out, flexible work is seen as a business issue that involves “when, where and how much people work and must work for both the employer and the employee.” And it’s important to note, too, says Burud, that flexibility has shifted from a program-focused practice where managers dictated when, where and how work is done to a broader corporate mindset. Says Burud, “Real flexibility now requires that employees and teams contribute to the decision.”

Diane Burrus, senior consultant of WFD Con- sulting, a Boston-based consulting firm, adds that flexibility must “involve management and work practices that are focused on “results” no matter when or where they are achieved, including:

  • Flexible Work Arrangements such as work- ing an alternative schedule and/or from a remote location; formal, long-term arrangements usually governed by policies and guidelines
  • Informal, occasional, day-to-day flexibility such as the ability to change a work schedule or location daily to meet business and/or personal needs while meeting business requirements
  • Studying for the CPA exam which is crucial to advancing your career. When you are expected to spend 100+ hours studying with a CPA review course, having flexibility at work is essential.
  • Career flexibility such as creating alternative career paths that enable people to adjust the pace of workload and advancement according to life cycle needs without being penalized in long- term career goals and opportunities.

Many factors have driven these changes, says FWI’s

Galinsky, including:

  • The global economy People who work in teams across time zones and cultures must be flexible.
  • The recession Flexibility has become a tool to manage tight budgets with the least possible losses for all sides.
  • Disasters Pandemics, storms and floods all prove that working flexibly is a bonus for business that can keep operating in a volatile outside world.
  • Increasing comfort with technology The view of the younger generations, which are used to working anytime, any place, has now spread to other age groups.
  • Demographic and attitudinal changes Today, 79 percent of couples in the workforce are dual earners and most families have to manage work and family responsibilities (41% of families have children, 43% of families have elder care responsibilities). Additionally, older workers now expect and need to work post retirement.

Changing Flex Issues

Let’s take a look at how the Working Mother Best

Company list has evolved over 25 years in response to changing attitudes. In 1986, the initiative’s inau- gural article in Working Mother noted the timeliness of its launch with this introduction:

“American business is changing — and not

a minute too soon. Challenged by fast-growing companies in Japan,West Germany and other parts of the world, U.S. corporations have been

going through a painful readjustment. One part of the readjustment has to do with long-encrusted management practices….[But] an equally important part of the change we’re seeing in business practice has to do with the influx of women into the workplace.”1

In 1985, more than 54 percent of women age

16 years or older were in the workforce2  and more than half of these women had a child under the

age of 1.Working mothers had more than doubled in the workforce since 1970, and already 55 percent3  of married couples were part of two- earner families. In the 1980s, women represented the fastest-growing segment of the American workforce, and companies were beginning to focus on the unique needs of working mothers and working families.

Before the 1980s, there was little flexibility in terms of work hours. Most employees had rigid start and stop times.That began to change in the

1980s and several of the first 30 Best Companies had begun to offer flextime (adjusting the start and stop time of the workers day) while only a few (Control Data and IBM) allowed employees to work from home.

These 30 winners were recognized as leaders for their focus on working mothers.They were aggressively tackling the most critical problems for working families, such as child care, and were keenly focused on utilizing the talent of women. Realizing women were in the workforce to stay, these leading companies set the stage for programs — parental leave, telecommuting, flextime, part time work and job sharing — that have become hallmarks for the

Workforce 2000, a document prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor by the Hudson Institute and published in June 1987  indicated “if the United States is to continue to prosper in its continuing shift from a manufacturing to a service economy in the 21st cen- tury, it must make reconciling the conflicting needs of women, work and families a top priority…. Demand for day care and more time off  from work for pregnancy leaves and child-rearing duty will increase, as will interest in part-time, flexible and stay-at-home jobs.”4

1   Working Mother Magazine, August 1986

2  Current Labor Population Survey, US Department of Labor;

3  Current Labor Population Survey, US Department of Labor;

4  Workforce 2000, Hudson Institute 1987

Working Mother Best Companies.

Back then, smart companies were already focused on preparing for the 21st century, and by

1990, the Working Mother Best Companies had grown to 75 companies.The 1990 list included more companies that were embracing work-

ing from home (AT&T and Aetna), job sharing (Steelcase) and extended leaves of absence (Allstate, Hewitt Associates, U.S.West, Merck and IBM). Paternity leave made its first appearance on the

1990 list, with Lost Arrow, NCNB and HBO leading the way. (In 2000, 36% of the 100 Best Companies offered paternity leave for fathers; in

2005, 48% did; and in 2010, 75% did.) In 1990, over half of the companies on the Top 75 list (52%) offered flextime to their employees.

It would take two more years before Working Mother recognized 100 companies, in 1992, and by the tenth anniversary of the Best Companies,

in 1995, the gains seen were tremendous. In 1995, the 100 Best Companies touted a list of standard programs and benefits that had not even been cre- ated when the list was first published. For example, in 1995, when few U.S. companies even thought to provide programs such as job-sharing and telecom- muting, 96 percent of 100 Best Company employ- ees already had access to flextime, with companies such as IBM reporting that 75 percent of its work- force used flextime and 25 percent telecommuted on a regular basis. As Lou Gerstner, then-CEO  of IBM and the Working Mother Family Champion

in 1995, said, “We ought to be as flexible  as possible. One of the great things about this industry is the opportunity to provide and encourage flexibility.”

By 2000, companies that had previously offered only leaves of absence were now beginning to offer the opportunity for mothers to “phase-back” into the work place after childbirth. Daily flex- ible schedules were expanded to flexible weekly schedules, now called compressed work weeks. Indeed, 15 years after the first Working Mother Best Company list, a true “work/life revolution”5 erupted as working mothers, who now numbered 26 million in the U.S. workforce, helped shape corporate America’s work/life programs. But as was reported in the October 2000 issue of  Work- ing Mother, working parents weren’t the only ones pushing for the right to have a life. Generation X and Y were now routinely asking companies about their health care and flex benefits and expecting to be able to work flexibly.

After 20 years of focusing on flexible work, things were beginning to change significantly. Not only were companies viewing flexibility  as a business imperative, as opposed to an accommoda- tion for working mothers, a whole new genera- tion of flexibility programs were beginning to appear. (See Figure 1.) Where flexibility was once

5  Working Mother Magazine, October 2000

6 Based on SHRM 2005 Benefits Survey, Working Mother Magazine, October 2005


FIGURE 1: Comparison

of Flexible Work Options Offered at Working Mother 100  Best


Paid Com- Job Telecom- Flextime
Paternity pressed Share muting Plan
Leave Work on a part
Week time



100 Best  viewed as a slight change in start and stop times, it was now being seen as flexibility  in where work was done. In a 2005 Working Mother reader survey, telecommuting topped the list of flexible arrange- ments working mothers wanted, with half of those surveyed wanting the ability to work from home

now and then. Additionally, the time component of flexible work began to change, moving from flex- ibility in a single day (flextime) or a week (com- pressed work week) to an even longer view — one of career flexibility.This new generation of think- ing, led by companies such as Booz Allen Hamil- ton, Allstate, Deloitte and IBM7, allowed working mothers to take charge and craft work plans that

fit their life needs. Success stories soon appeared featuring women asking for career breaks with the intention of returning to work or reducing hours while still producing significant results. Female managers were shown sharing jobs, while female executives were spotlighted for working part time — and succeeding.

Deloitte took the notion a step further by developing a “career customization” approach, allowing employees to dial their careers up or down. In 2005, this leading-edge thinking about flexibility helped paved the way for even more innovation and the introduction of new terms such as “on-ramps and off-ramps.” Flexibility was no longer a single event, but a systemic tool for companies to manage talent. Flexibility morphed from a focus on managing work schedules to a focus on managing one’s career.

Over the course of the history of the Working

Mother 100 Best Companies, the business case for

flexible work has become clear.Time and again,

the companies on the list have proved that flexibil- ity was far more than a “nice thing to do.” In 2000, for example, First Tennessee (now First Horizon),

a Tennessee-based  financial services company, reduced its non-exempt absenteeism to one and one-half days from six days (in 1992), while retention rates increased to 84 percent from 78 percent, and customer retention rose to 97 percent from 92 percent. First Tennessee also found the use of flexible work arrangements increased worker productivity as well: In 1997, the company’s accounts-reconcilement department implemented a flexibility program to include 12-hour days at the beginning of the month in return for time off at the end of the month.The change resulted in a decrease in account reconciliations by 50 percent and an increase in customer satisfaction.8

Explained Pat Brown, then senior vice present of development and strategy of First Tennessee: “Work/life Flexibility is one of the primary factors that affect employee loyalty, and there’s a direct correlation with customer satisfaction too.”9

As a whole, the Working Mother 100 Best Companies continually make the point that flex- ible work helps retain key talent. (See Figure 2.) At IBM, more than half of all employees said they would have left the company if the option to take a personal leave of absence were not available.10

Sears, too, has found its retention rates increased by 10 percent to 15 percent when its employees engaged in flex programs.11

As time has gone on, Working Mother’s questions about flexible work have evolved.

Why Don’t More Employees Actually Use  Flexible Work Options?

In 2000, Working Mother outlined three problem areas13  that left some workers out of the loop on flex- ibility:

  1. 1. They say it but they don’t mean it. Changing company culture takes time and leadership. The hardest cultures to change are those that values face time above all else.
  2. My manager won’t get with the program. If your immediate manager doesn’t support or under- stand the program, it will remain a hard battle for the employee.
  1. Workers like me can’t get that. A company’s big- gest challenge is to make sure work/life programs are available to all em- ployees. Not just salaried or those in headquarters. One large category that often misses out is non- exempt employees.

Today, stigmas re- main. FWI’s Galinsky, for example, says her research has found that some 39 percent of employees believe that those who ask for flexibility are less likely to get ahead — a figure that has held steady for a decade.

To fight this stigma, Galinsky says employees, employers and even com- munity leaders must work together to provide:

  • Community Support Initiatives such as the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility — the first such event hosted by a President and First Lady — set the stage for further commu- nity outreach that will shine a spotlight on the business value of flexible work.
  • Executive Engagement at the Senior Level to help leaders understand and be able to articulate the value of flexible work as a way to meet business and employee needs.
  • Internal Communication from Top Leaders Such messages must be distrib- uted early and often to employees. And equally important, says Galinsky, is for businesses to rate managers on how they support flexibility.
  • Training & Development Companies must work with middle managers so that not only do they understand the benefits of flexibility, but that they have and understand the necessary tools for man- aging in new ways.

the field has evolved, but also because in certain cases employees alerted the magazine’s editors that while their employer touted certain programs, real access did not exist. In response, Working Mother got tougher with its 100 Best Companies applica- tion, asking companies to provide employee usage rates for specific flexible work options as well as access. (See “Why Don’t More Employees Actually Use Flexible Work Options?”)

By 2009, flexible work had become the new normal, with 95 percent of 100 Best Companies reporting that flexibility is their standard way of doing business. Importantly, these companies defined flexibility  as including more than just formal flexible work arrangements, but occasional (or informal) changes in when and where work is done and career flex as well.

These companies also reported that their culture is designed to encourage and legitimize flexible work. As first reported in the Working Mother Media/FlexPaths study, Mastering the Art of Flexibility, the 2009 Working Mother 100 Best Companies noted that:

  • Their leaders promote or use flexible work practices themselves and that future leaders are drawn from a pool that includes people who work flexibly (94%).
  • They include flexibility in their corporate objectives, mission, and vision and value statements (87%).
  • Flex is an explicit part of their company’s employ- ment brand (externally, 95%; internally, 91%).

The winning companies also noted that flexible work served as a strategic business imperative as documented by:

  • 94% reporting flexibility as essential to the business strategy versus just an accommodation designed to benefit employees
  • 94% connecting flexibility to organizationalchange
  • 86% connecting flexibility to sustainability and environmental strategies
  • 75% connecting flexibility to disaster planning
  • 74% connecting flexibility to facilities planning
  • 98% including flexibility in hiring practices
  • 91% including flexibility in diversity & inclusion practices
  • 90% including flexibility in leadership development practices
  • 87% including flexibility in training practices

Drivers of such dramatic results are numer- ous, says Lingle of AWLP.To start, she says, “The workforce itself has changed markedly in 25 years and the speed of change continues to accelerate.” Additionally, she says, “life is far more compli- cated; global connections are more obvious and inescapable; and economic, political, and social forces harsher and more unforgiving.” Lingle notes, too, that increasingly robust research studies and thousands of reports from organizations across

all sectors over the past 25 years all lead to the conclusion that employers that embrace flexibility in a holistic way perform better in a number of measurable ways than those that don’t. “Workplace flexibility is proving itself over time to be such a critical element of organizational functioning that we now realize we are only on the verge

of understanding how it mediates and interacts with other people strategies to loosen up the organizational arteries, thus maximizing the probability that an employer will be able to zig and zag with agility, able to land on its feet and meet the next big challenge.”

Challenges Still  Remain

Even after 25 years of progress, there are still flex

tools and techniques whose full potential is unreal- ized. Emerging practices that can take it to the

next level include:

  • Manager Rewards/Accountability Holding managers accountable for making flexible work a success is not yet common practice, even among the 100 Best Companies. Less than half of the

2009 Best Companies (48%) evaluate, reward or select managers based on their ability to support flexible work, while less than one quarter (23%) say that whether managers promote flex is a factor in their compensation.

  • Technology New technology tools are still

not yet fully leveraged. Only half of the 2009

Best Companies use technology to handle flex requests (53%), only half track its use (55%), and less than three-fourths (72%) report having systems whose goal is to ensure consistent and fair application of flex.

  • Impact Metrics Although nearly all of the 2009

Best Companies consider flex essential to their

business strategy, only 50 percent measure the impact of flexible work practices on business per- formance. More, but still less than three-fourths (72%) measure the impact on talent goals.

In many organizations, flexibility retains a stigma that is hard to shake. Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Work + Life Fit, says her 2008 research CFO Perspectives on Work-Life Flexibility found

that 62 percent of the 100 chief financial officers polled at companies with at least 5,000 employees in organizations with flexibility policies felt their management team views work-life flexibility to

be an informal perk. Only one third felt their

executive leaders believe work-life flexibility  is a business strategy to manage talent, resources and work flow. This disconnect of the perceived value that flexible work generates to achieve business re- sults and the reality of low usage rates perpetuates the myth that flex may be good for employees,

but not for business. “Unbelievably,” says Diane Burrus, “there is still concern from leadership/ management in some organizations that increasing employees’ access to flexibility will have a negative impact on productivity. The fact that the

business case for flexibility is well documented needs to be shared with these leaders and they need to be shown how flexible work and management practices can be utilized to address their business challenges.”

Ted Childs noted too that, “One of the challeng- es that persists is that of non-supportive managers, particularly middle managers, or older, locked-in- time managers.The way to change that is to tell

the business-case story and highlight success stories of employees who have used flexibility tools to

help them respond to their work obligations and highlight managers who have been supportive of their employees doing so to help other managers see a different picture.”

There is a new recognition of the importance of viewing flexibility  as a business tool versus individual accommodation, says Burrus. Leading companies realize that flexibility is not something just for women or working mothers, because men value flexibility too. Flex also increasingly has a role in attracting, retaining and motivating the multi-generational workforce — even occasional

flex is highly valued by employees. As the economy improves, both employers and employees are facing new challenges in today’s environment when it comes to flexible work — challenges that some see as positive, while others find it less encouraging.

Childs agrees: “Leaders are becoming more

WORKING MOTHER  100 BEST  COMPANIES REPORT BACK: Creative Use  of Flexibility During the Recession

This role of flexible work in a tough economy was certainly on the minds of leadership across the Work- ing Mother 100 Best Companies in 2010. For example, these winning companies reported that they:

  • Allow employees to work from home one or two days/week to save on commuting costs in response to fluctuating gas prices (67%)
  • Allow employees greater flexibility if their spouse lost their job or experienced reduced hours (57%)
  • Offer employees reduced hours or additional unpaid days off to avoid layoffs (37%)

aware that they’re at a competitive disadvantage — losing talent or existing talent being out competed by more flexible, agile competitor teams — when they don’t encourage and support flexible work.” Yost, meanwhile, describes the situation this way: “Employees are waking up post-recession to a workplace and career reality that is almost un- recognizable.What little job security there was is gone.They are going to have to chart their own course personally and professionally much more

so than any time in the past.While this has the potential for unlocking tremendous opportunity, many employees are scared of losing their jobs

and are hanging on for dear life. Heads are down, working harder, faster, longer.” Yost notes that one challenge is that “employees don’t realize that they play a primary role in making flexibility succeed. Organizations can’t give the answers, but they can create the environment in which the conversation and innovation can take place.”

In the meantime, says Burrus, employers are

juggling many of their own post-recession con- cerns, including the question of how to maximize productivity with fewer people, how to retain and engage critical talent to ensure success in the eco- nomic recovery, how to ensure organizational and individual agility and resilience and the ability to anticipate and adjust to rapid change, and how to ensure innovation — all the while considering ways to address increasing workload, stress and burnout. In some cases, says Burrus, this situation has had a negative impact on flexible work, as employers express concerns about productivity

“Maintaining an understanding of the positive influence flexibility can have on the bottom line  is vital, especially when initial reactions to times of belt tightening are to increase control,” states Patricia Lewis, IBM’s vice president of Human Resources, Diversity and Employee Experience.

FLEX  IN-DEPTH: IBM’s ‘Flexibility Principles’

IBM has long been a leader in flexible work as demonstrated by its  position on the Working Mother 100 Best

Companies since its  inception in 1986. Along the way, IBM has helped shape the messaging and approach to flexible work as it learned what worked and what needed to be changed and modified to meet current business needs. As the company looks to the future, it is once again leading the way.

For the future, Patricia Lewis, vice president of Human Resources, Diversity and Employee Experience at IBM, says, “We’re thinking less in terms of programmatic flexibility and more in terms of a very fluid work routine — focusing on results rather than activity and details of time and place. IBM recognizes that flexibil- ity  is about culture change and uses its  “Flexibility Principles” to define what that means for IBM as follows:

THE ENTERPRISE DOESN’T STOP In a Globally Integrated Enterprise, the en- terprise never stops working. Some- where in the world, IBMers are work-

ing  on solutions for our clients, but that does not mean employees work


BALANCING OF NEEDS  Flexibility encompasses how, where and when work gets done and it is a tool for getting work done

in the new world of work. IBM is com- mitted to providing its employees the greatest degree of flexibility while bal- ancing the needs

of our clients, our business, team

effectiveness and the individual IBM employee.


our core value of “trust and personal responsibility in all relationships,” IBM expects managers and employees to make decisions, including those about flexibility options, consistent with this value and to demonstrate per- sonal responsibility to ensure business commitments are met in the new world of work, a Globally Integrated Enterprise.

RANGE  OF  OPTIONS Flexible work op- tions are a vehicle

for IBM to meet the needs of Global clients and can

be employee- or management- initiated; however, all options must

be management approved. Open dialog is important to understand and secure support for the best flexible option, which may include compressed work weeks, varied work times, part- time, job-share, work from home, etc. Based upon

the needs of the business, clients or individual role, flex- ibility options may be limited.

UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENCES Ef- fectively operating in the new world

of work, and in a Globally Inte- grated Enterprise, requires sensitivity to a broad range of differences. IBM’s success in dealing with this new world of work requires all IBMers to exercise care and judg-

ment to consider the needs of our global stakeholders

— clients, custom- ers, colleagues, and the communities in which we operate. Each of us  must take responsibility to explore, under- stand and reflect differences in cul- ture, customs, time of day, holidays, language, business requirements, and the personal needs of stakeholders and the impact of its

decisions on busi- ness dealings. Care- ful inquiry and dia- log is required as is the need to adapt and be flexible, as appropriate, to best meet the needs

of all — business, customers, clients, and employees.

FOCUS ON RESULTS In the new world

of work, work is something you do, not a place you go. Focus on results, setting

goals and measur- ing  performance. The new world of work provides an opportunity for

an outstanding experience for IBM customers, clients and employees.


As the business environment changes, it’s important to redefine the role of flexible work. Reflecting on our current understanding of flexible work, Work +

Life Fit’s Cali  Yost believes best companies now realize that:

  • The need for flexibility is an issue for everyone
  • Policy alone doesn’t lead to broad, meaningful, sustainable change
  • Flexibility is not a one-size-fits-all program, but a process-based strategy that can accommodate the unique realities of each person and business
  • Flexibility is about much more than keeping and retaining mothers. It is about saving money (e.g. real estate, health care), global client service,

sustainability and much more.

  • Flexibility is not a perk, policy or program…It’s the way work is done and life is managed.

and competitiveness and the feeling that more face time is needed in this stressful time. Indeed, the 2010 annual employee benefit survey by Society of Human Resource Management found many companies inching back on flexibility. SHRM reported, for example, that 49 percent of employers offered flextime last year, down from

54 percent the prior year. And access to job-shar- ing and compressed workweeks also fell, by three percentage points, while telecommuting dipped by one. Nevertheless, says Burrus, progressive or- ganizations have used this economic downturn as a reason to look at flexibility more creatively — for example, as a tool to avoid layoffs and retain

valuable employees, expand their ability to recruit remote talent, and reduce overhead costs.

Interestingly, some companies have gone a different route by actually mandating flexibil- ity with policies such as four-day work weeks,

telework and other kinds of flexible arrangements in an effort to save money. “These companies are using flexible work to meet business needs, but not necessarily employee needs,” argues Lingle. “Is it truly flexible when it’s mandated and still yielding the same beneficial business outcomes?”

Looking back at the evolution of flexible work across the Working Mother Best Companies over the last 25 years, we can see a number of trends

that may in fact, forecast developments for the next

25 years, including:

  • Changes in the way organizations and individuals approach flexible work are linked to social and economic changes
  • Increasing commitment to flexibility as a

common response to environmental, economic

and business continuity pressures

  • The need for the business case for flexible work

to be very clearly articulated and personalized

for each organization

  • Women leading the way toward more flexible

organizations, with men increasingly joining the


  • An expanding “flex community” that includes

government, the private sector and academia

  • A drive to incorporate flexible work as an

infrastructure  issue that is as critical  to an

effective society as good schools, good roads, good business, good families and good communities

We’ve learned a great deal over the last quarter of a century about the role and effectiveness of flexible work, but there’s a great deal more to do.

Non- Exempts Exempts Difference  

FIGURE 3: Access to Flexibility by

Program Across








the 2009 Working Mother 100  Best Companies
FLEX TIME 92.5% 97.2% +4.7%








% of population with access to program


Today, virtually every company on the Working Mother 100 Best Companies asserts that flexible work is simply the way business is done.We’ve clearly reached a tipping point in the evolution of flexible work and a new standard has been set for companies that want to be employers of choice.

It also means that going forward, the Working Mother 100 Best Companies must make sure that what’s behind their “yes” answers on the Working Mother application  is really real.When companies say they have the systems in place to enable people to work flexibly, they must be the essential ones.

It’s interesting to note, for example, that among the

2010 Best Companies, while 96 percent say that employees’ requests for flexibility are considered through an equitable process, less than half (42%) have an intranet or extranet site to allow employees to request a flexible work option and be notified

of approval or denial of their request, and just over half (59%) have a technology-based mechanism for tracking the use of flexibility.The issue of the haves and have-nots also needs to be addressed. Even at the 100 Best Companies, there remain significant differences among employee groups as to who can use various flex options. For example, less than

one third (29%) of full-time, non-exempt employees at the 2010 Working Mother 100 Best Companies worked from home occasionally, compared to 60 percent of full-time, exempt employees. (See Figure 3.)

Sandy Burud of FlexPaths argues that employers must do more to investigate and remove remain- ing barriers to flexible work, looking even beyond their existing workforce to talent that has never applied or turned down an offer. Companies need to examine the role flexible work or flexible career choices played in those decisions.Two important questions companies need to ask are:

  • Do employees agree that if they work flexibly they will have equal access to advancement, development and quality assignments?
  • Do managers have the attitude, competencies

and wherewithal to manage dispersed and

flexible talent well?

It’s time for honest self-examination because the driving force behind flex has changed,  as this 25- year retrospective on the Working Mother 100 Best Companies illustrates.The new reality —and this is no small matter — is that these leading companies are no longer simply allowing flexible work

because it helps employees.They are promoting flex for business reasons that may be even more urgent or powerful from a financial perspective. These reasons include the need to reduce their facilities footprint or be able to continue opera- tions at full speed during an interruption or disaster, to name only two.With this shift to a business necessity, it becomes essential that organizations eliminate anything that may hold employees back from working flexibly.

As budgets are stretched even farther, new internal players such as disaster planners, facilities/ real estate, diversity/inclusion, IT and others offer an opportunity to shift the momentum for flex- ible work — and may actually determine where the push for it originates. HR is now partnering with IT, risk management, facilities, and others on

making the business case for flex and in the design, development, facilitation and implementation of flexible work. In the future, it may be that HR won’t be inviting these players into the conversa- tion as much as coordinating with them as equal partners, creating an even more powerful focus on flex as a business solution.

Transforming a culture from one where work is done at the same time in the same place to anytime/anywhere work is no small undertaking, especially in a context of employment laws created for the once-traditional centralized, synchronized, standardized workplace — and often, where senior management may still have that mind set. As “any- time/anywhere” work becomes the norm, a range of new legal issues will arise that will need to be sorted out and regulated differently.

These days, with companies looking more and more to career flexibility, Lingle says the next frontier of flexibility will be to get employers and employees to negotiate “off switches” with ap- propriate push backs, limits and boundaries around what is work and what is life. Indeed, says Lingle, workplace researchers have learned two certainties in recent years:

  • Employers do not consider it in their interest to tell anyone to stop working (even though they rack up health care costs and consequences that they often don’t officially tally); and
  • American employees(somewhatdifferently then

workers in some other cultures) will keep taking

on more work, working longer and longer hours.

In the near term, however, how best to monitor the fair and consistent application of flex will con- tinue to be a challenge. As more companies create systemic ways of coaching, tracking, educating and

documenting flexible work, the transformation

to flexible, dispersed and asynchronous work (i.e. working in different places at different times) will force teams to reinvent how they function and ultimately improve processes and output dramati- cally. It will also force teams to plan ahead more, establish better objective measures of results and be clearer in their communications.

These changes will improve the experience of employees along with their health and well being — and so will generate enormous value back to the business. For businesses that sell knowledge or service, as most businesses do today, the state of their people is directly related to earnings and growth. Ideas and personalized service are the differentiator and the most innovative ideas come from the minds of people

who are rested and clearheaded. Similarly, attentive service is given by people who feel respected and valued.These are the hallmarks of a flexible work environment that recognizes both the businesses and individuals’ needs.

The strength of the flexible cultures revealed by this retrospective report is remarkable.  It establishes that as of 2010, having a great employment brand requires meeting a new standard. It is no longer enough to simply “offer” flexible ways of working, innovative as that once was. Flexible work must now be part of a culture that recognizes and truly demonstrates trust and respect for all employees, and one where

working flexibly  is the ”new nor mal,” supported by the communication, structures and systems that allow it to thr ive.

The fact that flexible work has found its place in corporate America, in no small part due to the 25-year history of the Working Mother 100 Best Companies, now sets the stage for a more sophisticated dialogue, with a new set of issues and opportunities. While some may feel that we’ve arrived at a “destination,” we’ve actually only begun the journey. The next 25  years of flexible work will be incredibly

exciting and a transformational time for both organizations and for employees.


About the author

Karol Rose

Chief Knowledge Officer, FlexPaths

Karol Rose is partner and chief knowledge officer of FlexPaths, a leading provider of web-based and consultative flexible working solutions for corporations, the government and people seeking employment in organizations that have flexible working cultures.

Karol Rose has worked at the forefront of the work-life effectiveness field for over 25  years. She is the author of five books, including Work-Life Strategies: Bottom Line  Strategies for Today’s Workforce (WorldatWork, 2006) and was the contributing editor for the Fortune magazine’s annual work-life and human capital special features.

As a consultant Karol developed flexible work practices and designed educational experiences for HR and senior management to support the business goals of many Fortune 500 companies. She led  the work-life practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers and TimeWarner Inc., and has been at the forefront

of the creation of many ‘firsts’  in the work-life field, including developing one of the first on-site back up child care centers in the country.

Karol is a former member of the Board of Directors of AWLP, the Conference Board Work-Life Leadership Council, and member and 2002 Chapter President of The International Women’s Forum.  She is a frequent speaker at major conferences and is often quoted in national publications and business journals.

Karol lives and works from Martha’s Vineyard.


FlexPaths®, a certified women-owned business founded in 2005, is a leading provider of web-based and consultative flexible working solutions for Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. government and the career-minded workforce

IBM works with clients around the world to help their businesses grow “smarter” as the planet becomes more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. Through its  software, hardware, services, consulting and R&D expertise, IBM helps create systems that lead to less traffic, healthier food, cleaner water, and safer cities.

Working Mother magazine reaches 2 million readers and is the only national magazine for career-committed mothers; brings to the Web home and career information, advice and a broad range of solutions daily. This  year marks the 25th anniversary of Working Mother’s signature research initiative, Working Mother 100  Best Companies, the most important benchmark for work-life practices in corporate America. Working Mother Media, a division of Bonnier Corp., includes the National Association for Female Executives and Diversity Best Practices. Working Mother Media’s mission is to serve as a cham- pion of culture change.