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Flex-time, time off: Who's getting these perks?

  • Story Highlights
  • Hewitt Associates: 75 percent of big organizations offer flexible-work benefits
  • Many companies by law have to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually
  • Telecommuting and compressed work weeks also common benefits
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By Jeanne Sahadi
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NEW YORK ( -- Employees at the Seattle office of the U.S. Government Accountability Office know that they have to put in 80 hours of work every two weeks.


Some employers understand that your working at the expense of everything else in your life isn't good for you ... or for them.

But they can configure those hours pretty much how they'd like, with the exception of the one day a week their managers require all employees to be at the office at the same time.

Plus, they can work from home for some of the week, or they can work compressed weeks so that they can take every fifth or 10th day off and still log their 80 hours.

Those policies are why that GAO office is among the recipients of the Alfred P. Sloan awards for excellence in workplace flexibility given by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) every year.

Three-quarters of big organizations now offer flexible-work benefits, according to Hewitt Associates. Watson Wyatt in its survey of mid- and large-sized companies found that flexible work schedules was the most commonly offered benefit, followed by telecommuting and compressed work weeks.

But just because an HR policy exists doesn't mean that your employer has your back if you're afraid to take advantage of it.

That's why FWI recognizes employers that have flexibility policies that are both innovative and regularly used by employees. Here are just a few examples from among FWI's 2007 winners.

At Amerisure Insurance Company's Detroit office, all employees have some flexibility in their schedules, even those staffing call centers. They can choose the hours they work between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., which lets them, for instance, pick up or drop off their kids during the day.

At the 16-member Bailey Law Group in Washington, D.C., telecommuting isn't a problem, even from across the country. Rather than lose two of its best employees, who were moving to other states, the firm's founder, Kathy Bailey, let them work remotely from their new homes.

Bailey told FWI that she attributes the tripling of her company's revenue in part to the firm's flexibility, noting that one of the relocated employees brought in a whole new roster of clients as a result of the move.

Intel makes its money on innovation, and burn-out rarely produces innovative ideas. That's why employees at the company's Chandler, Arizona, office get two paid consecutive months off every seven years. They also get reimbursed for tuition if they're pursuing further education and can use company time to pursue a degree, either by using comp time or making up for the time spent in class by working on evenings or weekends.

Sabbaticals are also an option at NRG, a small insurance firm in Seattle with 14 employees. They get an extra month's vacation for every five years they work and may take two consecutive months off during their sabbatical year.

Regular and flexible time-off is critical, too, especially when salaries aren't huge and talented employees can make more elsewhere. At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), employees start with two-and-a-half weeks' vacation and after three years, get a full month. They also can roll over any of their unused sick days (they get 13 a year) and use them for any medical need, including taking care of a sick family member, or for bereavement.

At no time do you appreciate your employer's flexibility more than when you need to take time to care for a child or handle a family crisis.

Under federal law, companies with at least 50 employees must let employees take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for a new baby, a sick family member or their own medical problems. This week, the author of that legislation, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), co-sponsored a bill calling for companies to provide 8 of those 12 weeks to be paid.

At Ernst &Young's Chicago office, new mothers with at least a year's tenure at the firm get three paid months of leave plus up to 19 weeks of unpaid leave. New fathers get six weeks of paid leave if they are the primary caregiver, two weeks if they are not.

For employees who adopt, they get 16 weeks of leave, of which six are paid if the employee is the primary caregiver, or two otherwise But then an additional four weeks of paid leave is available when the primary parent goes back to work.

For parents who choose to leave their jobs, Ernst & Young stays in touch, calling them when new work opportunities at the firm arise.

Employees caring for a close relative, meanwhile, can take up to 16 weeks of leave without fear of losing their jobs.

The payoff for the firm is huge. Deanna Bassett, the accounting firm's Inclusion and Flexibility Leader, told FWI, "The cost of our flexibility practices is nothing compared to the cost of losing good people and hiring and training new ones." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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