Q: Lately Frank, the HR director at an accounting firm, has had requests from employees for better work-life balance. Many of his employees have young children, and others are single Millennials, who chafe at a rigid schedule. Even boomers are more frequently asking for long weekends. Frank’s boss is concerned about lack of accountability, productivity and the bottom line. Does flextime work?
A: JEAN JUCHNOWICZ, OWNER, HUMAN RESOURCES SIMPLIFIED
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT has embraced alternative work schedules and is encouraging organizations that are serious about hiring and retaining top talent to do so, too.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “A flexible work schedule is an alternative to the traditional 9 to 5, 40-hour work week. It allows employees to vary their arrival and/or departure times. Under some policies, employees must work a prescribed number of hours a pay period and be present during a daily ‘core time.’”
I recently conducted a management training program for a group of happy federal government managers. They explained the flextime available to them, including compressed schedules (working longer days but fewer work days to equal a 40-hour week), flexible schedules (varying arrival and departure times), and telecommuting (working from home part or all of the workweek).
Companies have to do cost-benefit analysis and determine what type of schedule would work for them. Alternative work schedules depend on the industry you’re in and type of customer. If your company is retail, you can be flexible on time as long as you have coverage on the floor. With manufacturing there are no visitors, and as factory work can be boring, four 10-hour days could be a better fit. Management should get group approval from employees as to what type of schedule they would like.
The real drive is the number of generations in the workforce, particularly Millennials taking over for boomers. Millennials want work-life balance. In another 10 years, they will make up 75 percent of the workforce. And while managers have been fretting about Millennials, a new generation has been quietly growing up—the Generation Z kids, now ages 15 to 20; they are the first “always connected” generation. In another five years, they will be making their mark in the workforce. We’re not really certain how this group will pan out as workers: They’re constantly looking at their phones and tablets, they’re a little more unsocial, a little more solo. Time will tell.
Wage and hour laws remain important. Of course, if some of the employees working these schedules are non-exempt (hourly), the Fair Labor Standards Act must be followed as to overtime. The FLSA does not address flexible work schedules, but the Department of Labor has published numerous reports online on the topic. [It is important] to have hourly employees sign at the end of a pay period that their hours are correct. Another option includes company web portals that show when someone logs on or off, or that can block certain email addresses from access during after-work hours.
Employers—CEOs, CFOs and HR leaders—need to clearly understand the pros and cons of transitioning to an alternative schedule. The pros include enhancing work-life balance, having an additional full day off each week, reduced employee stress, less office space needed, less absenteeism, increased productivity, improved job satisfaction and an easier commute and less gas used by avoiding rush hours. Consider downtown Manatee or Sarasota: Trying to get in at 8 a.m. is nuts [with traffic], so being allowed to come in at 9:15 eases that stress. [Alternative work schedules can also] accommodate employees with disabilities.
The cons include not having all staff at group meetings, social needs of some employees won’t be met—sometimes people need that “water cooler chatter”—managers unsure of how to supervise if they cannot physically see their employees, the risk of technology breakdowns and, as always, customer needs must be considered first.
You don’t have to manage a government agency or a Fortune 500 company to implement these changes. Alternative work schedules work through communication [among the staff and managers].
Many employers in our tri-county area have found success over the last five years using some of these programs.
There are helpful sites, such as flexjobs.com, workoptions.com, telework.gov, telcoa.org and dol.gov, which can guide you.
And I can provide a sample policy that can be adopted; contact me at [email protected].