Recent studies are used to exaggerate a decline in work\/life benefits\nMerrill Lynch, poster child for telework since 1994, is now being touted by some as proof of the movement\u2019s decline.\nRecent research points to a dip in the number of employers offering work\/life benefits. CCH\u2019s survey of 400+ employers showed those offering telecommuting had dropped from 47% to 45%; job sharing had dropped from 37% to 30%; and compressed work weeks had dropped from 49% to 40%.\nA survey of human resources managers conducted in June by the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) showed 55% of their firms were offering flextime (comprising various work\/life benefits), down from 64% in 2002.\nSHRM says its survey doesn\u2019t prove a drop in work\/life programs, but more of \u201ca plateau due to the economy,\u201d a spokesperson for the group says. \u201cAny decline has been limited to typically between 1% and 2%. The surprise comes for many because family friendly benefits have been on such a steep rise for so many years.\u201d\nBack to Merrill Lynch. One of several\u00a0negative telework stories circulated recently was by AP reporter Adam Geller. Geller says \u201cbelt tightening at Merrill hints at changes in many companies,\u201d implying that by closing its telework lab and restructuring its HR department, Merrill has abandoned its commitment to telework.\nNonsense. No one would argue Merrill\u2019s had a tough couple of years. But those were smart business moves. The lab, where novice teleworkers spent a week learning to work remotely, was ahead of its time back in 1994. But today, the lab seems quaint and irrelevant.\u00a0\n\u201cIt\u2019s not just that we\u2019ve fallen on hard times. We\u2019re changing the way we do things,\u201d says Selena Morris, the Merrill representative Geller interviewed. \u201cWe didn\u2019t tell our employees they can\u2019t work from home anymore, or they can\u2019t do flextime. There\u2019s no pressure coming from the top down about telework. Stan O\u2019Neil, our new chairman, has made it very clear to employees that Merrill is a meritocracy. What really matters is the kind of work you\u2019re producing and the kind of commitment you have to the job and the firm.\u201d\u00a0\nSurveys are a funny thing. If your HR manager is sent a survey from SHRM asking whether your firm offers work\/life programs, he might answer yes or no, but neither will necessarily capture what\u2019s going on in the firm. Flextime benefits are slippery, more difficult to track than say, employers who offer benefits to employees\u2019 same sex partners. A lot of telework and flexible arrangements are handled under HR\u2019s radar \u2014 even companies with established, formal telework programs.\nMorris confirms it: \u201cWe never tracked the numbers of teleworkers. A lot of people never went through the program, not officially. In such a big firm, it\u2019s hard to know who\u2019s doing what, formally.\u201d\nOf course, it\u2019s still an employers\u2019 market. But that doesn\u2019t mean smart companies won\u2019t offer flextime to good employees, especially if faced with losing them.\nAt Network World, many of our talented reporters have recently started families. (We recently got together and the baby pictures flew everywhere!) Our HR department doesn\u2019t tout our telework or work\/life benefits, but we enjoy them just the same. Many of us work from home full time, some work compressed weeks, and many in-office reporters routinely work from home. But should our market improve, and we start competing hard for talent again, will we tout our progressive management style? You bet.\nSo is telework really suffering? I don\u2019t think so. But what about you? Is there evidence in your company that attitudes are changing for the worse? Is management demanding more face time? Do you know coworkers who\u2019ve been called back into the office? If so, please let me know. Of course, I\u2019ll keep the info confidential.