Time On Their Side

Clocking Challenges

Good as this sounds, there is a dark side to flextime. "It can make a manager's job much more difficult," says Foulkes. How? Most bosses are still accustomed to "face time"--they're happiest when they can see employees doing their jobs. What's more, when the boss works the same hours as employees, he or she is always on hand to answer questions, deal with emergencies and ensure that the work gets done. When workers put in staggered hours, always being on the job becomes a near impossibility for the boss. "For flextime to succeed, management has to trust employees and be noncontrolling," says Foulkes.

"The changes involved in instituting flextime can be very threatening to management," adds Lingle. Are you up to that challenge? Prior to implementing flextime, know there are issues you need to consider before you gather the staff together and announce your new policy.

You may find when looking into your particular office situation that it would be exceedingly difficult to institute a flextime program. "Flextime won't work in all companies or for all positions," says Riggio. One example would be for employees who work on assembly lines, where all hands have to be on board for the line to move forward. More broadly, minimum staffing is required for some positions in all companies--most businesses need customer service and security personnel on hand at specific times, for instance.

Beyond that, another key to making flextime work is to set up schedules so all workers are on hand simultaneously for at least a slice of the day--frequently from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Without that overlap, trying to schedule in-house meetings can be frustrating.

In the process of setting up the system, you must also decide how much flexibility workers will have to change their schedules: Can they come in at 8 a.m. on Monday and Friday, 6 a.m. on Wednesdays, and 7 a.m. the other days? In some flextime approaches, that variation is permitted. In others, workers have to pick one time frame and stick to it every day. Neither way is better: "Flextime is itself flexible," says Lingle. It's your call which style of flextime you want in your business.

But there are still more concerns to contemplate, and a big one is that in announcing a shift to flextime, you've got to clearly communicate to employees that all core business functions must always be covered, says Chamberlain. This can be a trouble spot in smaller companies, she says. If everybody wants to start at 6 a.m., probably some won't get their way, and you have to prepare workers for that possibility. You can explain that, to the extent possible, individual workers' preferences will be accommodated, but the work still has to get done and customers must still be satisfied.

Other issues that are apt to come up when creating a flextime plan include:

*Complaints that other workers are abusing the system. "You often hear this," says Foulkes, who says that sometimes workers will claim to arrive much earlier than they actually do. Over time, however, employees are apt to police themselves, with shirkers getting a clear message from co-workers that they've got to shape up.

*Employee skepticism about management's sincerity. "You need to encourage workers to use their flextime options," says Lingle. Fail to offer encouragement, and you may find everybody still working the same hours??? but that doesn't necessarily mean they're happy about it. "Employees need reassurance that this option is there to be used," Lingle adds.

*Demands for still more flexible scheduling. "In most companies, instituting flextime opens the door to requests to telecommute, for instance," says Lingle. If that's not a good idea for your business--and flextime suits vastly more businesses and jobs than telecommuting does--say so upfront and explain why. Employees are likely to accept rational reasons without grumbles.

Do the results warrant all this bother to institute flextime? The fast spread of flexible scheduling policies through U.S. businesses says it does. And it may well be inevitable that sooner rather than later, virtually all companies will offer some form of it. "Flextime just fits our times," says Foulkes.

By increasing worker satisfaction and costing a business little, if any, out-of-pocket expenses, it's definitely an option worth taking a hard look at. Says Lingle, "If you want to keep your best employees, you'd better give strong consideration to offering flextime. It's become just that popular today."

Contact Source

Buck Consultants Inc.,http://www.buckconsultants.com

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This article was originally published in the July 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Time On Their Side.

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