The Workplace Flexibility and Workday Breaks Help Study

Survey Finds Disconnect Between Employers and Employees On Work-Life Balance

While 67% of employers feel workers have work-life balance, 45% of employees disagree.

Boston, MA and Los Angeles, CA, February 17, 2015 –, a research and advisory membership portal servicing forward-thinking HR professionals, and CareerArc, a global recruitment and outplacement firm, today announced the results of a new study entitled, “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study.” Following a national survey of 1087 professionals, both employed and unemployed, in addition to 116 HR professionals, 67% of HR professionals think that their employees have a balanced work-life, yet almost half (45%) of employees (35% of job seekers) feel that they don’t have enough time each week to do personal activities. One in five employees surveyed spent over 20 hours working outside of the office on their personal time per week – a clear indicator of suboptimal work-life balance.

Technology may be to blame for the amount of work performed outside of the office: The survey found that the majority of workers–65% of employees (67% of job seekers) say that their manager expects them to be reachable outside of the office, 9% by email (7% for job seekers at their previous job), 23% by phone (27% for job seekers) and 33% by email and phone (34% for job seekers). From the HR perspective, 64% expect their employees to be reachable outside of the office on their personal time, 18% by email, 3% by phone and 26% by both email and phone.

Taking work home after office hours may be the norm, but formal workplace flexibility programs–wherein employees have the option to periodically work from home without coming into the office–seem to be benefiting both employees and employers. 87% of HR leaders believe that workplace flexibility programs lead to employee satisfaction, while nearly 7 out of 10 HR leaders use workplace flexibility programs as a recruiting and retention tool.

The study exposed employee and employer preferences on issues of work-life balance, flex programs, and benefits.

Additional highlights from the report include:

Companies are investing more in work flexibility programs in 2015. Last year, of the companies that knew how much they invested in their work-life benefits programs, 60% spent under $20,000 and 29% spent more than $40,000. 53% of these companies plan to invest more in their programs in 2015. The biggest concern for employers who establish flexibility programs is potential employee abuse of the system (42%) , followed by it not being part of their culture (40%) and concerns about employee fairness (34%).

Workplace flexibility is more important to employees than employers think. 50% of employers ranked workplace flexibility as the most important benefit they believe their employees desire, compared to 75% of employees (and 74% of those unemployed) who ranked it as their top benefit. Employees, job seekers and HR professionals agree that paid and unpaid time off is most important to employees (72% of HR vs. 79% of employees and 74% of job seekers). Both employees (61%) and job seekers (66%) ranked financial support, such as tuition assistance, as being most important after time off.

Employers are seeing benefits from their flexibility programs. The top benefits organizations saw in their work flex programs were improved employee satisfaction (87%), increased productivity (71%), and that they retained current talent (65%). 69% use their programs as a recruiting tool and 54% said that their programs positively impacted their recruiting.

Boomers don’t benefit from their flexibility program as much as younger generations. 62% said that the demographic that benefits most is Gen X compared to 35% of Gen Y and only 3% of boomers.

Employees care most about compensation yet employers think otherwise. 37% of employers said that the type of work that employees do is most important to them, compared to the money they make (24%). On the other hand, 31% of employees (24% of job seekers) said that the money they make is most important followed by the type of the work they do (22% of employees and 23% of job seekers).

There is a large opportunity for employers to strengthen their employment brand by offering outplacement and career transition assistance to their employees. 71% of job seekers answered that they were likely to choose a company that offered outplacement (career coaching and transition services for laid-off employees) over a company that did not if all else (salary, role, etc.) was equal. As a benefit, outplacement assistance was more important to potential employees than health and wellness benefits, community volunteer initiatives, tuition assistance, or culture change initiatives such as team building. Outplacement trailed only workplace flexibility and time off for jobseekers evaluating employer benefits. Approximately one-third (34%) of the organizations surveyed with 500+ employees currently offer outplacement assistance to it’s laid-off employees.

Why Taking a Break at Work Makes You a Better Employee

Breaks are particularly re-energizing if workers spend the time doing something they enjoy, the study found.

Unlike cellphones that run optimally until their batteries die, people "have to charge more frequently before we deplete all the way," explained Emily Hunter, associate professor of management at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business in Waco, Texas, and the study's lead author.

The study doesn't directly show that worker breaks cause more productivity on the job, but it does show a link between taking breaks and other important outcomes that employers may care about: higher job satisfaction; reduced emotional exhaustion; and greater efforts by employees to undertake work above-and-beyond their job description, the study authors said.

The research comes at a time when office workers face growing pressure to work longer hours, putting them at risk of burnout, experts said.

Only half of U.S. adults employed full-time work 40 or fewer hours a week, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. The average workweek is now 47 hours, with nearly one in five full-time workers clocking 60 hours or more, the Gallup poll revealed.

For many, taking breaks during the workday seems out of the question. Only one in five employees takes an actual lunch break, according to a 2012 Right Management survey of more than 1,000 North American workers.

That's partly due to company culture, noted Christine Corbet, managing consultant in the New York City office of Right Management, a career management and organizational consulting unit of ManpowerGroup.

"If you have a boss that's never taking breaks, it's hard to feel like you can take one," she said.

Federal law doesn't require employers to offer lunch, coffee or rest breaks. However, most businesses must give nursing moms a break to express breast milk, under federal law. Some states have laws requiring lunch or rest breaks, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Unionized employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement may also be entitled to take negotiated breaks.

But, little scientific research exists to show when, where and how employees can reap the most benefit from workday breaks.

To find out what makes for a "better break," Hunter and co-author Cindy Wu, also from Baylor University, surveyed 95 employees from a single organization. They were between 22 and 67 years old, and most were female, the study said. They were surveyed over a five-day workweek.

After each break, workers completed short surveys about their break activity and well-being. The study controlled for how well employees slept the night before, how fatigued they felt in the morning and how energized they were before the break.

Employees took an average of two breaks per day, but there were days when some participants reported no break at all, the study authors said.

Researchers were not able to pinpoint the optimal number or length of breaks but found that timing is critical. The more hours that elapsed before a break, the less energized and the more symptoms of poor health workers reported when returning to the job. In other words, toiling through much of the workday before taking a breather is not as restorative as taking time out early in the day.

After a morning break, employees said they had more energy, more motivation to return to work and were better able to concentrate, Hunter said.

Early breaks also were associated with fewer symptoms -- such as headaches, eyestrain and lower back pain -- when employees returned to work, according to the study.

"There's still a lot of research that needs to be done, but this [study] definitely opens the door to getting answers to some of those issues," said John Trougakos, associate professor of management at the University of Toronto, who conducts research on so-called "work recovery."

These days organizations want people to do more with less, Corbet said. "What we have to do is increasing. What this means is how we get it done needs to change, so that may be things like incorporating breaks," she said.

In the sports arena, coaches rest their best players so that they'll be at peak performance during critical times, Trougakos pointed out. Workers and their employers should be planning breaks, too, "so that you are marshalling and maintaining resources for what you need to do," he said.

Unfortunately, many employers and even some employees don't realize the toll of stress and burnout on people's health and performance, Trougakos said. "We're not robots," he said.

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