Liz Elfman | The Daily Muse
I remember the world pre-Google. My dad would go off to work each morning, very early, dressed in a suit and tie. My mother, who worked for a large engineering company, had a similar routine—formal work clothes, 9 AM start time, hurriedly downing coffee before running out the door. This is what professionals did. If you worked for a corporation, odds were that you worked a set schedule, wearing some variation of the formal uniform.
Enter Google. I wasn’t old enough to apply for jobs during Google’s rise to its perch at the top of a booming tech industry, but when I did start looking for positions, I was already aware of Google’s reputation as an amazing place to work. But were the rumors really true? Could people wear flip-flops? And bring their dogs to work? And play volleyball at lunch?
I visited Google’s campus during my senior year of college and confirmed that the rumors were indeed true. I didn’t end up getting the job I interviewed for, but I still saw enough to alter my perception of what it meant to be a successful corporation. As I watched employees zoom around the campus on bikes, eating free food, dressed in whatever they felt like, I decided that you could have fun, be informal, and still work at arguably the most successful company in the world.
It is my firm belief that employers should implement policies like informal dress code and flex time whenever possible. And I’m not alone—many studies have shown that these benefits can reduce stress, increase employee longevity, and even ensure that people are available at a broader stretch of time over the day.
For example, a study at Durham University in the U.K. reported that flexible working initiatives that “equip the worker with more choice or control, such as self-scheduling or gradual or phased retirement, are likely to have positive effects on health and well being.” In particular, the study showed improvements in mental health, sleep quality, sleep duration, and alertness during the night when employees had more control over their schedules.
Having flexibility is also one of the biggest morale boosters an employee can have. Another study, done by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, found that “employees working in an environment viewed as more family supportive experienced lower levels of work-family conflict. Reduced work-family conflict was in turn related to greater job and family satisfaction, followed by greater overall life satisfaction.”
But these benefits aren’t just good for employees, they’re great for companies, too. Having healthier and happier people decreases turnover, not to mention health insurance costs. What’s more, when people don’t have to commute every day or during peak times, they can work more hours with ease or be available at a broader stretch of the day, and be less exhausted from the hassles of commuting. (If clients aren’t regularly visiting the office, being able to wear comfortable clothes makes me feel more likely to want to work longer, too.)
More and more, I have seen business modeling themselves after Google, and I’m thanking my lucky stars that companies are starting to realize that happy employees are the best thing for the bottom line. Start-ups, especially, seem to have embraced a culture where these benefits are implemented frequently, and I think that is why more and more young people are eschewing the Goldman Sachs’ of the world for jobs at start-ups. Many people realize that a slightly lower salary or less stability is sometimes a worthy trade-off for a more fun-filled and flexible lifestyle that allows you to attend to occasional yoga class, wear jeans all day, and sleep a few extra winks when you need to.
If you’re looking for jobs in an industry like IT, design, or any other field in which work can be done at any time of the day, I would urge you to pay attention to companies who offer flexible work schedules and environments. These policies are great indicators of a corporate culture that is more open and progressive, and one where there is a large amount of trust between employees and their management.
Liz Elfman is a post-graduate student studying international relations. Previously, she worked for IBM and as a researcher at The Atlantic. She has lived in France and Washington, DC and currently lives in London.