Many companies tout themselves as a “flexible workplace.” But what exactly does that mean? Does the company permit employees to have a regular telecommuting schedule or just work from home occasionally? Does the company offer modified start and stop times or compressed workweeks? All of these options and more can be components of a flexible workplace.

The 2014 National Study of Employers issued by the Families and Work Institute (“FWI”) and Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”) measured the use and popularity of 18 flexibility policies and programs by employers. These flexibility policies and programs range from employee management of breaks, shifts and overtime hours to flex time and flex place to flex careers, sabbaticals, and career breaks for family responsibilities. Of these policies and procedures measured by the study, the most frequently used options were: employee control over break times, taking time off without loss of pay for family and personal responsibilities, and occasional changes of start and stop times. Check out pages 18-24 of the study to see how your organization compares to the employers measured in the study.

No one option, or combination of options, creates a flexible workplace. Similarly, not all of the 18 flexibility policies and programs measured by the study are appropriate or feasible for all workplaces, or even for all employees within one workplace. The key to creating a flexible workplace is to be creative and to seriously consider flexibility options before ruling them out. It is also important for the company to support managers who effectively manage these flexible workplace policies and programs among their employees on a day-to-day basis, such as considering this as a component of the managers’ performance and compensation evaluations. (Less than 50% of employers currently do this.)

This begs the question of why do employers want or need flexibility options? The 2014 Study helps answer that question: employees in flexible workplaces are more likely to be engaged in and satisfied with their jobs; to stay with their employer; to have better physical and mental health; and to have less “negative spillovers” between work and home and a lower stress level. For employers, this translates to higher levels of employee retention, productivity and reliability, and potentially lower health care costs. Thus, it seems that a flexible workplace begets happy, healthy and loyal employees.