Making a Flexible, Alternative, or Compressed Schedule “Work”

Flextime, compressed work schedules, telecommuting, and working from home have always been championed by workers, and scrutinized by management.  But after Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer took only two weeks maternity leave, then abolished working from home for Yahoo! employees, it seems work/life balance practices are being probed even more, despite the uprising of technologies and systems that make flexible and alternative work situations easier than ever to employ.

So how does an employee or manager successfully implement an alternative work schedule or flexible hours so both employee and employer benefit?  First, an approach must be defined, then the benefits and disadvantages weighed, and finally, a policy must be implemented.

Generally, there are two approaches to flexible work schedules.  The first is flexible hours, or variations in work start and end times.  The second is a compressed work week–like 4/10’s and 9-3/4’s–where the employee works more hours per work day in exchange for a shorter work day, or extra day off during the same 40 or 80-hour period.

Working flexible hours or with a compressed work week has many benefits for both the employee and the employer when executed appropriately.  Benefits of flexible schedules can include:

  • A work week that is based around employees’ most productive hours
  • Improved work/life balance
  • Extended office coverage on certain days or hours
  • Minimized overtime hours
  • Reduced commuting and daycare costs for employees
  • Avoidance of traffic
  • Less absenteeism for personal appointments
  • Higher employee morale

But employers and managers can be hesitate to implement a flex schedule policy because scheduling can be complicated, work quality may suffer, fewer hours are spent with the “team”, and employees may perceive inequities among each other’s work load or scheduled hours.

The key to making a flexible schedule work for an agency is a well-developed, thoughtful policy that addresses any potential issues that might arise internally, or externally (with customers).

If you or your office has considered possibly implementing a flexible schedule policy, be sure take the following into consideration.  These tips, along with other tips for implementing and maintaining an alternative work schedule for government employees, can be found on our LinkedIn Group, the City Clerk Cafe’.

  1. Review Wage and Hour Laws. Be sure a flexible schedule situation does not unintentionally violate existing contracts and regulations.  For example, non-exempt employees may qualify for overtime for any amount of work over 40 hours in a work week (even though the total of 80 hours would not be exceeded over a two week period). Another area to address is the requirement that all employees take a half hour lunch.
  2. Be consistent with public expectations.  Because you are a governmental agency, the public will have an expectation of when the doors will opened and phones will be answered, especially during the Monday through Friday hours of eight to five.  Be sure expected hours, as well as the busiest hours/days of the week are adequately staffed.
  3. Reiterate that flexible work schedules do not equal unlimited flexibility.  In order to ensure that staffing obligations and worker expectations are met, the supervisor should approve, in advance, any work hours outside the core business operating hours, and establish a consistent schedule of expected start and end times for each worker.
  4. Ensure flexible hours do not negatively affect the agency. Flexible hour arrangements should be fair, cost neutral (or cost less), and not adversely affect customer service, productivity, or employee morale.
  5. Have a process for revoking flex time.  If it is deemed that flexible work arrangements are not in alignment with the agency’s goals, have a process for modifying or revoking the flex hour or alternative scheduling option.  This may include seeking feedback from fellow employees, customers, or management, and putting in place an alternative schedule if the initial flexible schedule does not satisfy the needs of the office.
  6. Set limitations (and expectations).  Reiterate that flexible hours are a privilege, and therefore not all requests will be fulfilled if they do not align with the needs of the agency.  By setting limits–such as the number of days every week that the employee must be in the office, and earliest possible start and end times–employees and management will more likely be able to resolve a schedule that meets work demands while maximizing personnel flexibility.
  7. Discuss how exceptions will be addressed.  Holidays, vacations, conferences, sick time, meetings, and travel all present issues when coordinating flexible schedules.  Define how these issues will be addressed ahead of time, and come to agreement on how schedules will be managed during these events.

With the right approach and initiatives in place to satisfy the needs of employees and the agency, a flexible schedule can not only increase productivity, but also improve employee morale and happiness at work.

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