The Globe and Mail by Eva Pomeroy 24 August 2015

My friend Beatrice is an accidental flex worker. Made redundant when her company decided to downsize, she was later asked to return when the economy picked up and the company needed her skills and experience. She did return – only this time, on her own terms: as a consultant, working part-time and flexibly. Now she enjoys a healthy balance between the work she loves and the time needed to care for her three young children.

Beatrice is lucky to continue to work in her area of expertise while also having time to raise her family. Her employer is lucky, too. They continue to profit from investment in her training and development, her years of experience in the field and, consequently, her ability to work competently, reliably and independently.

In terms of her career trajectory, Beatrice describes herself as having hit a “plateau,” when her children are older and family demands decrease, she can see herself advancing up the ladder – just as her boss did before her.

This would be the perfect example of an organization successfully retaining talent by adapting to changing work-life situations – if it didn’t happen by accident.

Workplace flexibility over the lifespan of an employee’s career shouldn’t happen accidentally. It needs to be planned and intentional.

Human Resources Development Canada estimates that fewer than one-quarter of Canadian workers benefit from having flexible schedules. As the percentage of Canadian parents who struggle to balance work and family now sits between 46 per cent and 61 per cent, according to research commissioned by the Vanier Institute of the Family, this is an issue that demands workplace attention.

In addition to having a negative impact on employees’ physical and psychological health, work-family conflict negatively affects job performance. Workers who experience high levels of work-family conflict report being less satisfied with their work and less committed to their organization. Conversely, studies of employees who work flex time show that these parent-employees co-ordinate their responsibilities better at work and at home, and perceive a positive impact on their relationship with their children.

A recent Ernst & Young survey of more than 9,000 full-time workers in companies of varying size across eight countries found more than one-third reporting that work-life balance is becoming more difficult.

Millennials are beginning to move fully into the workplace while many are also becoming parents. The Ernst & Young study found that American millennials are more likely than any other generation to make changes that allow them to manage work and family. Further, millennials across all countries in the study said that they would be more likely to recommend to others a company that offered flexibility and paid parental leave.

In the future, work-family balance policies will no longer be a “bonus” but rather an essential strategy for attracting and retaining talent. The companies who work creatively and flexibly to meet these new expectations will come out on top.

Eva Pomeroy is an assistant professor of applied human science at Concordia University. She lives in Montreal with her husband and two sons.