By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to The Toronto Sun
The bottom line: Getting there is far from the same old, same old. As the landscape of the Canadian workforce changes, companies are being forced to adapt their operations to find new paths to profit.
Work/life balance has become a dominant priority for today's worker. For many, if not most, 9-to-5 doesn't mesh with the multiple responsibilities they must meet outside of the office.
"The demand for flextime will not go away," says Bob Fortier, president of the Canadian Telework Association and a teleworker himself.
Over the next decade, the rise in baby boomers reaching their 50s and 60s and caring for their elderly parents will only increase the already substantial demand for flexible employment options.
As well, as the digital age continues to infiltrate the business scene, it's made it possible, and even more economical, for employers to have their personnel working from somewhere other than the office.
But are Canadian employers getting the message?
A survey released last month by Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) confirms they still have a way to go.
The study, called "Part-time work and family-friendly practices in Canadian workplaces," gauged the responses of about 24,000 Canadian employees and about 6,300 workplaces.
It found that 57% of companies employ part-time workers, and 40% of workers enjoy certain flextime arrangements.
But the options dropped significantly when it came to other family-friendly areas, with about 5% of employees reporting access to telework arrangements (working from home), and access to childcare services and eldercare services reported at about 3% each.
"Companies that do not allow flexible work arrangements to any great degree are shortchanging themselves," says Bob Fortier, president of the Canadian Telework Association (CTA). "Morale is poor, commitment to the company is not there, and that means absenteeism as well as turnover levels are higher than they should be. Competitors will snatch up your talent, and it won't be advantageous with respect to productivity."
As Canadians continue to see their family and community commitments grow, and an aging population seeks to vary/lessen its workload, companies will not be able to ignore the demands of work/life balance.
A 2001 study by Ekos Research study of 5,000 Canadian workers found that 50% said they were interested in working from home, and 27% viewed it as "extremely appealing."
And in a January 2002 Royal Bank study of 742 telecommuters, 77% said the arrangement increased their job satisfaction.
The good news for both employees and employers is that, as companies re-examine their formula for success, everyone will come to reap the rewards of offering flextime benefits.
The HRDC study showed that flextime options can lead to "increased job satisfaction, increased satisfaction with pay and benefits, a reduction in paid sick days, and higher participation rates in work-related training." It found that flextime actually led to employees putting in longer work weeks.
Companies that promote telecommuting can also save on office space and parking expenses, and have the option to tap out-of-area labour markets.
"Over a five year period, it's very easy for a company to save $5 million by allowing a group of 100 employees to telework only two days a week. This includes start-up, training and equipment costs," Fortier says.
Over the the last several years, several companies have incorporated flextime options into their operations. The CTA Web site (www.ivc.ca/cta/index.htm
) lists 44 different organizations that currently offer telework opportunities, including the Bank of Canada, Trimark and Levi Strauss.
About 20% of IBM Canada's workforce telecommutes, and the company has found that its teleworkers can be as much as 50% more effective at their jobs.
As social demographics continue to change and consensus continues to grow in its support, flextime will become an integral part of current business strategy.
"We're going through growing pains," Fortier says. "It's a slow buzz but it is a buzz. The demand for flextime will not go away. Gradually the tide is turning."
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