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The Benefits of Flextime

With our personal lives busier than ever, offering flexible work options to your employees could be the best way to keep the good ones around.

Five days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 48 to 50 weeks per year: That had been the typical work schedule for a good portion of Americans for many decades. But by the 1990's, employees were finding that the traditional workweek was sub-optimal. But why?

Though still very dedicated to their jobs, a certain percentage of the workforce was trying to adapt to the combined needs of a demanding professional life and a busy personal life. They were feeling off kilter and unbalanced. They required a more novel approach to the workweek and found it necessary to request a special, more flexible work schedule.

Their reasons for wanting this "flextime" were many and varied. In some cases, the quality of both their work performance and their home life was decreasing. Parents of young children needed time to drop those kids off at school or day care. Employees with elderly parents needed time to assist with their parents' daily care or even drop them off at elder care facilities. And at the end of the day, pick-up obligations for both kids and parents again ate into the traditional nine to five workday.

And there are reasons that go beyond the traditional family care issues. For instance, some employees need time off to attend or teach classes; other workers have a second job. Many need to adjust their schedules to avoid serious, predictable and time-consuming traffic jams. And for others, working a nontraditional part-time schedule is a lifestyle choice.

But as an employer, why would you consider offering flextime? After all, it's "different," and if you run a very traditional sort of business or operate out of habit, to see employees arriving and leaving at various times during the day can be upsetting. It can also be problematic to coordinate people, tasks and productivity when your employees aren't at work at the same time. So why should employers consider creating flexible schedules?

The main reason is to retain key, dedicated employees whose personal needs conflict with traditional work hours. If you can offer flex time, you'll gain increased productivity and worker satisfaction, along with decreased absenteeism and turnover--all great money-savers for your company!

Flextime helps create a happier, more satisfying workplace, too. Because employees are often so glad that their employers are willing to allow for a work-life time adjustment, they tend to work harder and in a more dedicated fashion to hold on to their now-perfect schedule and re-balance their lives.

Flextime Options
So just what kind of options are there to the traditional workday? Perhaps one of the oldest plans is job sharing. In this case, two workers usually each work half time, comprising one full-time equivalent (FTE) employee. For this type of plan, tasks, roles and responsibilities need to be closely coordinated to ensure optimal productivity.

A second plan allows for employees to work different hours, which usually involves them coming in to work either earlier or later than most of their counterparts. For instance, instead of working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., flextime employees might work 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Another option allows employees to alternate between a four-day week and then a five-day week, thus permitting a traditional two-day weekend followed by an extended three-day weekend. Or, if your business allows it, employees can work ten days straight (including weekends) and then enjoy four consecutive days off. Or they can work four, ten-hour days every week and then have three consecutive days off. The possibilities here are only limited by what works for your business.

In companies with peak periods, such as accounting firms or tourist businesses, employees can work many more than forty hours each week during the busy season(s), and then enjoy shorter weeks in the less-busy season(s). Closely related to this seasonal plan is "comp time" which refers to employees working more hours than usual each week but not being paid overtime for this overage. Instead, employees can leave early some days or take a day off to balance out their hours.

In many companies, some employees' job responsibilities are primarily project oriented--as soon as one job's completed, the employee can simply go on to the next task. With this type of job, an option here is for the employee to be paid on a project basis by deciding how long the task should take and what the remuneration will be for that responsibility. And the employee can take time off between projects if they finish sooner than planned. In this instance, the employee functions much like an external consultant who's hired on a project basis.

Telecommuting is a plan that incorporates characteristics from several other flextime ideas. With PDAs, computers, the internet and cell phones, employees no longer have to be "under the same roof" to accomplish their jobs. Employees can work at home all or part time and in the office part time. This plan allows employees to mix the quiet or comfort of home with the dynamics at the office. This is especially helpful if their work environment is small, crowded or noisy, and they need quiet time to get the job done.

Success Tips
If you're at all worried that your employees might take advantage of your good nature and goof off when they should be working, these tips will help ensure maximum output:

1. Your goals for any employee working flextime need to be clear. The goals must be both specific and action-oriented so they can be measured at the end of the work period. And both of you need to agree on the actual scope of work. And it's critical, especially when it comes to telecommuting, that the mode of transmitting the end result be unambiguous. For example, do you want work details or the end product to be communicated by phone, internet or in person? Are rough drafts and a phone call sufficient or do you need a polished report?

2. An employee's exact role in the company needs to be clearly defined. Each person--manager and employee--must know the expectations and responsibilities of self and others. Each person must also know exactly who does what and with whom and who is responsible to whom. This is especially true when you have employees working outside the office and communicating only via phone or e-mail. When role clarity isn't ensured, confusion, blame, dissension, antagonism and a lack of productivity often result.

3. You must determine the frequency and mode of communication you require before your employees begin working their flextime schedules. Employers vary on the amount of control and contact they want or demand from their employees. Some bosses want a written summary of a week's efforts first thing Monday morning; others are satisfied with a phone call. Still others believe that a face-to-face meeting is essential. Figure out what you need to feel comfortable with the work your employees are doing and set some guidelines.

4. Establish some regular working hours for your telecommuting employees. It seems the less often an employee is present in the office, the more that people need to get in touch with that person. The telecommuter needs to outline a usual time that he or she will be available by phone or e-mail and also set a regular time for coming in to the office. Many employers with flextime employees have discovered the concept of "core hours." This is the time all employees must be physically present at the business location for a set amount of time on a specific day. Knowing, for example, that all employees will be available for a meeting every Tuesday from noon to 2 p.m. can go a long way to decreasing the anxiety of flextime.

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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