FLEX­I­BLE think­ing

Gauge whether staff can al­ter work rou­tine; it can pay off on job and at home

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

ITRULY love Win­nipeg’s slo­gan — “A great place to live, work and play” — yet many of our work­ers would say they lit­er­ally have no time to play! In fact, many would also say it was difficult to achieve good life/work bal­ance.

That’s be­cause peo­ple lit­er­ally run out of time.

As you know, time is def­i­nitely some­thing you can’t touch, yet it is con­stant and ir­re­versible. There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and that’s that. Once time has passed, you can never get it back.

Since we can’t control time, the only thing work­ers can do is to control their re­la­tion­ship with time. This re­al­iza­tion has helped many work­ers and or­ga­ni­za­tions to start pay­ing more at­ten­tion to time and the se­ri­ous con­straints the de­mands of work and fam­i­lies create. This is es­pe­cially so be­cause re­search is demon­strat­ing that the emo­tional toll on em­ploy­ees re­flects right back on or­ga­ni­za­tions, af­fect­ing morale, pro­duc­tiv­ity and even­tu­ally the fi­nan­cial bot­tom line.

One re­cent study sug­gests that at least one-third of em­ploy­ees contacted for a tele­phone sur­vey were look­ing for a new job be­cause of the lack of a flex­i­ble work sched­ule that in turn af­fects life/work bal­ance. An­other two-thirds of par­tic­i­pants in­di­cated they were favourable to greater flex­i­bil­ity in their work­place. Thus, the con­cept of flex­time is grow­ing rapidly as an HR trend as lead­ers rec­og­nize that not only is it a life/work bal­ance tool, it can also be uti­lized as an em­ployee re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion tool.

Flex­time refers to the abil­ity of em­ploy­ees to have sched­ul­ing op­tions for their work hours. This could rep­re­sent a con­densed work week that con­sists of four 10-hour days in­stead of the reg­u­lar nine-to-five work week, work­ing from home through tele­work on a part-time or sched­uled ba­sis, as well as job shar­ing and other alternatives.

Dur­ing 2010/11, the na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion World of Work un­der­took a sur­vey of pub­lic and pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions as well as not-for-prof­its and gov­ern­ment-re­lated agen­cies to de­ter­mine the preva­lence of flex­i­ble work sched­ules. It found that most flex­time sched­ules are ad hoc rather than for­mal. As well, the sur­vey found that while some or­ga­ni­za­tions of­fered up to eight op­tions, em­ploy­ees more fre­quently opted for part-time sched­ules, flex time and tele­work­ing. As can be ex­pected, the sur­vey also iden­ti­fied that flex­i­bil­ity op­tions var­ied by in­dus­try and size, with man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­nesses of­fer­ing fewer flex­i­bil­ity op­tions.

It was in­ter­est­ing to learn through the sur­vey re­sults that or­ga­ni­za­tions with an es­tab­lished flex­i­bil­ity cul­ture ac­tu­ally trained their em­ploy­ees to be suc­cess­ful with their flex­i­ble sched­ules and trained man­agers on how to lead and su­per­vise em­ploy­ees whom they can’t see. In addition, th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions have a for­mal pol­icy with re­spect to flex­time and use this as a re­cruit­ment tool. Over­all, it was found that or­ga­ni­za­tions that used flex­time re­ported a pos­i­tive ef­fect on em­ployee en­gage­ment, mo­ti­va­tion and sat­is­fac­tion and lower turnover.

As in­di­cated ear­lier, flex­time is a grow­ing trend that is pro­duc­ing enor­mous ben­e­fits for both em­ployer and em­ployee. One such com­pany, U.S. based State Street Corp., iden­ti­fied that the de­mand for flex­time among em­ploy­ees was grow­ing so fast that it was com­pelled to im­ple­ment a pol­icy and op­er­a­tional frame­work that could be ap­plied to its 29,000 em­ploy­ees world­wide.

State Street of­fered five flex­i­bil­ity op­tions in­clud­ing al­ter­ing start/stop times, but main­tain­ing core hours, com­pressed work weeks, work­ing from home, job share or over­all re­duced work­ing hours. Man­agers were given guide­lines for eval­u­at­ing flex­time re­quests from both the job as well as the cor­po­rate per­spec­tive. Prior to ap­prov­ing flex­time op­tions, man­agers were also re­quired to mit­i­gate cus­tomer ser­vice, pro­duc­tiv­ity and le­gal risks.

Since the in­cep­tion of flex­time sched­ul­ing, the State Street Corp. em­ployee sur­vey iden­ti­fied an in­crease in em­ployee sat­is­fac­tion, an in­crease in pro­duc­tiv­ity and a de­crease in ab­sen­teeism. Fi­nally, flex­time ar­range­ments en­abled the com­pany to over­come any impact of ma­jor storms in­clud­ing tor­na­does and the Ja­panese tsunami.

With sum­mer months and beau­ti­ful weather ar­riv­ing on Man­i­toba’s doorsteps, im­ple­ment­ing flex­time in your work­place might be a worth­while con­sid­er­a­tion. Where and how should you be­gin?

First, a flex­time pro­gram must be sup­ported by se­nior ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing your CEO/ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, or else it will not be suc­cess­ful. A pro­gram must en­able the or­ga­ni­za­tion to con­tinue mov­ing for­ward with its goals, in­clud­ing ser­vice and/or pro­duc­tion. It should not create ad­di­tional costs nor should it re­duce ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness.

A pol­icy needs to be de­vel­oped that out­lines the frame­work for em­ployee ap­pli­ca­tion, the cri­te­ria for se­lec­tion of both in­di­vid­u­als and job cat­e­gories and the ap­proval process. Job tasks must be suit­able to a flex­time ar­range­ment and strate­gies must be put in place for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, su­per­vi­sion and eval­u­a­tion. In some cases, the best ap­proach is to un­der­take a three-month pilot pro­ject and then eval­u­ate the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of con­tin­u­ing.

Ap­pli­ca­tions for flex­time should be made in the form of a writ­ten pro­posal in­clud­ing a de­scrip­tion of how job tasks will be accomplished, the ben­e­fits to both the in­di­vid­ual and the or­ga­ni­za­tion, how com­mu­ni­ca­tion and su­per­vi­sion will take place and pro­pos­als for start dates.

Man­agers and/or hu­man re­source pro­fes­sion­als need to create a check­list for em­ploy­ees that as­sists them to ex­am­ine the nu­mer­ous is­sues they need to con­sider while writ­ing their pro­posal. The check­list should fo­cus on the var­i­ous el­e­ments of their spe­cific job, how client is­sues will be man­aged, and how the em­ployee will com­mu­ni­cate with co-work­ers, clients, su­per­vi­sors and man­agers. The pro­posal needs to deal with how per­for­mance will be mea­sured, how suc­cess of the ar­range­ments will be gauged, how the em­ployee will “self-man­age” for suc­cess and if there will be any impact on their pay and/or ben­e­fits.

From the em­ployer per­spec­tive, each pro­posal for flex­time work sched­ul­ing should be eval­u­ated on its mer­its. The de­ci­sion must be based on whether flex­time is ap­pro­pri­ate for each spe­cific job as well as iden­ti­fy­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tional ben­e­fits, gen­eral work­flow and impact on de­part­men­tal ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness. Fi­nally, be­cause em­ployee self-man­age­ment is a key to suc­cess, man­agers must as­sess an in­di­vid­ual em­ployee’s suit­abil­ity for this type of in­de­pen­dence.

Flex­time is def­i­nitely a grow­ing trend and as sum­mer ap­proaches, it could be a worth­while strat­egy for both em­ployee and em­ployer.

Source: The Busi­ness Case for Flex, Alison Quirk, HR Mag­a­zine, April 2012, Sur­vey on Work­place Flex­i­bil­ity, world of Work, Fe­bru­ary, 2011

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