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Are You Flexible? Flextime Schedules are Growing in Popularity

By: Nancy Ordman

After a couple of decades of encouraging employees to work anywhere other than a company office, some corporations that led the trend are calling some workers back. Marissa Mayer, formerly of Yahoo!, famously canceled work-from-home privileges in an effort to jumpstart creativity and collaboration. IBM has followed suit for some employees. This policy shift flies in the face of research that shows how popular workplace flexibility is, particularly with the millennial generation.

If telecommuting is off the benefit table, what can job seekers ask for instead? Many firms — and not just large multinational corporations — offer other kinds of flexible working arrangements (FWA) that aim to satisfy employees’ need for flexibility while maintaining lively collaboration and creativity. Flextime, a popular alternative to telecommuting, refers specifically to a work schedule that departs from the traditional eight hour work day that starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 4:30 or 5 p.m. and a work week that runs from Monday through Friday.

According to consulting firm PSMJ, 77 percent of engineering and architectural firms offer some kind of flextime as a benefit. “Firms are establishing core hours,” PSMJ Senior Principal Dave Burstein, P.E. explains, “and the trend is toward allowing more flexibility when it comes to when people are in the office, and if they work from home.” Employers are realizing that this employee benefit is also beneficial for companies that implement it, however it is implemented.

Employee and Employer Benefits

Perhaps the most important benefit from flextime is that employees regain a sense of control. In a world where a lot of daily life is prescribed — school hours, train schedules, babysitter availability — giving employees the discretion to fit job-related responsibilities into their broader lives reduces stress and burnout.   Other benefits include the following.

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased job satisfaction/loyalty
  • Improved work-life balance
  • Working at times of day when the employee is most productive

Millennials believe workplace flexibility makes them more productive. According to a survey produced by Bentley University, 77 percent of this cohort identifies flexible work hours as a productivity booster. This number is nearly twice as high (39 percent) as those who want telecommuting privileges. The survey also found that, perhaps counterintuitively, millennials prefer to communicate in person, rather than electronically, reinforcing the wisdom of bringing workers back to the office.

Employers who are recruiting twenty-somethings need to understand that, outside of salary and financial benefits, a good work/life balance is the leading factor this generation considers when evaluating job opportunities, according to The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey. It is also attractive to experienced, over-55 workers. Flextime gives employees the power to achieve a balanced life and thus contributes to employee satisfaction. Here are additional plusses for employers who offer flextime, all of which are backed up by research.

  • Helps recruit and retain employees
  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Saves costs
  • Provides better customer coverage/satisfaction

Flextime Flavors

Within the broad outlines of flexible schedules, employers and employees can craft a variety of work schedules. Business needs and the employee’s job responsibilities will determine the right implementation. Employers might offer one option or several.

Employee sets her own start and stop times during a regular work week: In other words, instead of working 8:00 am until 5:00 pm Monday through Friday, the employee starts work at 6:30 am and works until 3:30 pm. Some companies require that all staff work in the office during core hours and are time-agnostic outside that time period. If a company has locations or clients in different time zones, a shifted schedule might simplify communicating with these other locations and ease the staff member’s child care schedule at the same time.

Employee varies the number of hours worked per day: The employee’s total work hours will add up to 40, or however a work week is defined. She might work two 10-hour days so she can have an afternoon off to take a class, for example.

Employee works weekend days: Adding Saturday and Sunday to the work week is another way to free up an employee who needs time off during the week but who prefers not to work 10-hour days. This arrangement also works well for staff that needs uninterrupted quiet time to work on a project.

Employee works a compressed work week: The employee works 10-hour days, four days a week. A variation that is often used for hospital nursing staff is working 80 hours over two weeks by working 50 one week and 30 the next.

All employees focus on achieving set goals, results, or output, not on hours worked:  This model, called the results-only work environment (ROWE), debuted in the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It. If a software engineer completes her project in 30 hours, she’s free until the next project comes along. ROWE can work in specific situations, such as a project with set outputs and time frame. One key to success is careful definition of the expected work products.

Downsides

An interesting negative for employees is the potential for real or imagined discrimination, from colleagues and managers. Research confirmed the suspicion that workers who come in early in the morning are more productive — the early morning bias. Different people are productive at different times of day, however, and a flextime schedule that accommodates night owls can lead to the perception that the she is goofing off and not working.

A related downside could be a necessary, but unfortunate, uneven distribution of benefits. Not all positions lend themselves to flextime. For example, a company receptionist has to staff the front desk during regular hours. Some professionals opt out of flextime benefits when they sense resentment from other staff.

Flextime-friendly Jobs

Forbes produced this list of engineering and technical positions that are well-suited to both flextime and telecommuting.

  • IT Project Managers
  • Business development directors
  • Field sales engineers
  • IT network engineers/management consultants
  • Software architect/developers
  • Operations director
  • Marketing and Sales Director
  • National accounts/strategic accounts manager

Many other kinds of job could work well; a test run is always a possibility, if both the employer and employee are willing to try out a flexible arrangement — and scrap the test if results don’t support continuation. 

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