Does Flexible Work Actually Deliver Better Work-Life Balance?

Post on October 12, 2023

Some people say yes, some say no. Let’s have a closer look at how flexible work impacts work-life balance in reality.


Flexible work is about giving employees more choice about when or where they work. So it should follow that with more autonomy and control over their schedules, people will find it easier to attain a better work-life balance, right? It’s not that simple…


The truth is, “flexible work” is a vague concept and can look very different from company to company, team to team and even within a team itself. So whether or not flexible work delivers better work-life balance for employees depends entirely on how it is defined and implemented.


Two types of “flexible work” that don’t deliver work-life balance:


Ad-hoc Accommodation

Some employers think flexible work means accommodating ad-hoc requests for special leave, such as for a family emergency, or they may allow slightly different schedules for people with childcare responsibilities.


This traditional interpretation of flexible work doesn’t enhance work-life balance because it functions on a case by case basis and manager permission is needed for every case. Access to this type of “flexible work” throughout the company is often uneven, as it depends entirely on the individual manager and the type of request. Plus, employees who request special leave more often can be discriminated against as a result, by being labelled unreliable or not given as many promotions and pay raises.



Boundary-less Work

Some companies adopt a boundary-less working model for fully remote teams in order to operate around the clock, serve more customers and save money. Performance is often measured by results produced rather than hours spent.


Although remote workers save time with no commuting, they are actually burdened with a lot more responsibility in this working model, as they are often beholden to customers’ schedules. Plus, working from home, as the pandemic taught us, comes with its own difficulties of distraction and isolation. Women are hardest hit by this arrangement, as studies show they are more likely to shoulder the non-work responsibilities. In fact, a national study of women scientists in the US found that although their mostly male partners also worked remotely during the pandemic, the women ended up doing 90% of the domestic labour.


The type of flexible work that DOES deliver better work-life balance


According to research from Harvard Business Review, the type of flexible work arrangements that deliver better work-life balance all have these factors in common:


  1. Employees have a say. It’s not a one-size-fits-all mandate cooked up in upper management then implemented across the board. The company is responsible for providing the structure, i.e. flexible work options, equipment, supportive management systems, etc, and the employees get to decide how to organise their work within it.
  2. A top-down and bottom-up process. For flexible work to be successful, it needs to be implemented on both sides. Leaders listen, outline goals, and provide the resources and structures needed to make flexibility feasible. Employees communicate their needs while doing what is needed to ensure team and client requirements are met.
  3. Accessible to all employees equally. Not just to parents or management or office workers, or as a reward for certain accomplishments, but to every employee in the company. The pandemic proved that flexibility is possible even for essential workers. Companies found a way to fill in gaps when necessary.
  4. Clear and consistent guidelines. Everyone in the company should understand the flexible work policies clearly. If the policies are too complicated or inconsistent, they won’t work. A written framework with guidelines for making decisions about flexibility is a must. This gives managers the support they need in aligning flexible work arrangements with customer demands and product/service process requirements.
  5. Employees are empowered to manage their own flexibility. Managers do not have to decide everything. Rather, they can empower employees to reflect on key issues like customer satisfaction and team communication, and choose how to address these issues within their flexible schedules. Transparency is required here, with both sides communicating issues as they arise.
  6. There are no disincentives. When flexible work options are offered in a company but not used, it is often because of underlying disincentives. For example, the company could be chronically understaffed, making it difficult for employees to take the time off they are entitled to. Some companies pay employees more when they don’t take time off. Even subtle disincentives, such as praising employees for working overtime, are effective in rendering flexible work policies obsolete.
  7. Efficiency is rewarded. Companies that have seen the most success from flexible work are those that reward employees for finding ways to do things more efficiently and save time. Shorter work hours benefit both the employee (more free time) and the employer (lower costs). For example, some companies offer 4-day work weeks in return for no overtime pay - spurring teams on to work faster and reducing the costs of overtime.



Flexible work can absolutely be mutually beneficial to the company and its employees. It makes the company more cost efficient, more attractive to top talent and more adaptable to changing times. And it empowers employees to lead more balanced, fulfilling and stress-free lives. But only if defined and implemented properly.

If you’d like support with implementing flexible work arrangements and finding flexible office space solutions, the workbuddy team is here to help. Contact us for a free consultation today.