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Work in America Is Greedy. But It Doesn’t Have to Be.

BDO also has “go dark weekends,” when people don’t log in to their work accounts for a weekend and assign a colleague to handle emergencies. Most professional services jobs require individual workers to be responsive to clients around the clock, but Ms. Schwartz said BDO had learned that there were multiple advantages when clients relied on a team instead.

A big part of making flexibility work is convincing people they can use it. That didn’t happen at Credigy, the finance firm, until it put in a formal set of benefits, with the help of Werk, and senior executives started using them, said Kim Williams, the senior director of employee experience.

“What we’ve encouraged is that you don’t need to justify the ask,” she said. “It’s not taboo anymore.”

The biggest use of the benefit has been for caregiving, but people have also used it for volunteering, exercising or taking classes. “Working mothers maybe had a louder voice for a long time, out of necessity, but we fully believed it’s an important issue not just for women and caregivers, but for everybody,” she said.

Half of workers say they would switch jobs if they found one that offered them the ability to adjust their schedule as needed, and 37 percent would switch if they could work remotely at least part of the time, Gallup found. One recent study found that workers were willing to accept 20 percent less pay to avoid jobs in which employers set their schedules with a week’s notice and had them work evenings and weekends. Another found that people thought that setting their own schedule was equivalent to a 9 percent wage increase, and that telecommuting was worth a 4 percent raise.

It’s not clear yet whether benefits like these will outlast the competitive labor market. Real change for American workers would mean that entire industries question whether they need to work the way they do — fundamentally remaking how work gets done.

“It’s easy,” Ms. Gimbel said, “to mistake progress in a tight labor market for long-term systemic change.”

Businesses of very different sizes and specialties cited many of the same strategies for offering flexibility.

  • Ditch email for internal communication. Use Slack or text messages instead. (They say these are more efficient, and also more intrusive, so people pause before interrupting someone off hours).

  • Have fewer meetings. Ask yourself whether something really requires an in-person conversation.

  • Always include a dial-in number or video conferencing link in calendar invitations to include people who are working remotely.

  • Train employees to do other jobs so they can fill in for one another. Assign teams to cover clients, and tap recent retirees as substitutes.

  • Keep part-time employees on the advancement track for promotions.

  • Make flexibility a formal, structured part of work, not something given on an individual basis.

  • Ensure that everyone takes advantage of it — including senior managers, men and people who aren’t parents.


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