Sun-Times Column by BDO CEO and WLF–Work Life Flex Reduces Costs & Keeps Jobs

It’s not often we read about CEOs discussing the benefits of work life flexibility, so the Work+Life Fit team was quite excited when the CEO of BDO Seidman LLP, one of our clients, agreed to co-author a column with us on the topic.  The Chicago Sun-Times recently published the following commentary in their Other Views column.  The column (below) makes the point that work life flexibility is a way to manage that can control costs in many areas and limit layoffs.  We hope more CEOs and other top executives will soon learn that work life flexibility is not just an employee perk or a band-aid to avoid layoffs, but a broader business model that can reduce costs multiple areas while helping businesses grow.

Workplace flexibility lets firms keep talent, reduce costs

Jack Weisbaum and Cali Williams Yost; Special to The Chicago Sun-Times

15 January 2009

After the 2001 recession, employers continued to cut jobs until almost 2003. With current record-level layoff rates, Chicago area businesses can’t afford to continue the same employment models used during past economic downturns. Fortunately just before this recession, a few smart businesses used workplace flexibility for purposes broader than a short-sighted alternative to layoffs. They redefined the way they staff, work and run their businesses.

BDO Seidman, a Chicago-based accounting and consulting business, and Work+Life Fit Inc. surveyed 100 chief financial officers at the country’s largest organizations and found nearly a third offered project-based contract work, reduced hours with full benefits, and unpaid sabbaticals with full benefits, as part of their work force-reduction strategies. The money spent to attract and train was not lost. Employees retained some ability to pay for mortgages and credit card bills and kept health care benefits.

With creative work force flexibility, businesses can do more than just cut labor costs.

At BDO Seidman, we use workplace flexibility to help manage workloads through up and down business cycles. Some colleagues work 60 hours in tax season and 20 hours in slower times. We use telecommuting to do more than ease Chicago commutes and gas prices. We entered and grew faster in new markets such as Austin, Nashville and Phoenix with teams who worked from home and client offices.

Studies show telecommuting, flexible scheduling, compressed work weeks and job sharing allow businesses to reduce real estate, operations and equipment costs by as much as 40 percent. Such cuts lead to reduced travel, energy usage, emissions and overall environmental footprints.

As the economy deteriorates, problems with the health care system become more acute. Yet, research indicates flexible workplaces positively impact health care savings. A Wake Forest University study found workers with an increase in flexibility had fewer absences related to illness and were less likely to say health problems affected their jobs.

Staffing cuts continue to shape the corporate mentality. Chicago area organizations need to explore workplace flexibility not just as a knee-jerk tactic to cut labor costs, but as a broader cost-cutting and business growth strategy to retain valued professionals, meet customer demands and work smarter in a resource-challenged, global business environment.

Jack Weisbaum is chief executive officer of BDO Seidman, LLP. Cali Williams Yost is chief executive officer of Work+Life Fit, Inc.

What do you think?  Is the severity of the recession making leaders open to new, more innovative ways of operating?  Or are they reverting back to old patterns?