Why Flexible Downsizing Is a Win-Win Initiative

The four-day work week is very popular among public employers these days.  Employers who have implemented a compressed work week program successfully say they’ve enjoyed benefits such as saved energy costs, decreased absenteeism, and improved employee morale resulting from the change. 

I don’t believe that a four-day work week is the solution of all solutions, as some have claimed.  But I do believe that there are certain organizations that, because of their structure and purpose, can be good models for the program.  The ideal candidates, though, are almost always government employers.  A mandatory four-day work week, generally, is not realistic in the private sector. image

But does that general proposition lose its vigor in a bad economy?  Can the four-day work week be implemented in the private sector more effectively because of the downturn?  It turns out that flexible schedules can have important benefits in an economic downtime, just as they can in times of fiscal health.  The trick, though, is to get employers to be aware of the opportunities.  

Fast Company blogger, Cali Yost, has an ongoing series of posts about the benefits of “flexible downsizing” and why employers are better suited to consider this option as opposed to layoffs.  In a recent post, she explains:

There are creative, cost-effective ways to use strategic work+life flexibility to reduce labor costs while remaining connected to valuable talent. These options include reduced schedules, job sharing, sabbaticals, and contract workers.

In a recent interview with Penn professor and author, Dr. Peter Capelli, Yost questioned why more employers aren’t taking advantage of the benefits that can be derived from a flexible-downsizing initiative.  Most employers, said Capelli, are too short-sighted, focusing only on short-term cuts instead of the longer term savings to be had.  Capelli asserts that it is cheaper to retain an employee at  5% reduction in pay than to layoff 5% of the workforce because “there are no severance packages; the legal liability and associated costs are much less; and the savings come instantly without the agonizing administrative process of figuring out who has to go…”.

Flexible downsizing is also a valuable option when employers are trying desperately to avoid layoffs–at the cost of the fiscal health of the organization.  These companies are so pained by the thought of laying off personnel that they avoid doing so to the extent that it actually results in more layoffs in the long-term.  Alternatives such as voluntary, across-the-board pay cuts, reduced-hour schedules, and furloughs of even a few weeks can mean the difference between voluntary, and relatively minor, cut-backs now and involuntary and severe cut-backs later. 

Why the Four-Day Work Week Should Not Be Considered a “Flexible Schedule”

The four-day work week is touted as a way for employers to offer employees a more flexible schedule.  The demand for flexible and alternative schedules continues to grow.  There are a number of reasons for this increased demand.  The influx of Generation Y workers has played a role, for one.  Also, the increased focus on work-life balance mandates the need for flexible scheduling.  And, as the workplace becomes more and more mobile, the need for office workers to actually work from the office continues to diminish.   Flexible Work Schedule Hourglass and planner

There are many ways in which employers can implement flexible-schedule programs.  When done right, these programs can act as ways to recruit the best candidates and retain the best employees.  But not all flexible workplace programs are created equally.  And, in my opinion, one of the most hyped offerings, the four-day work week, doesn’t meet the criteria at all.  In a short post for the Sloan Work and Family Research Network, I write about Why the Four-Day Work Week Would Be the Death of the Flexible-Schedule Initiative.  In the post, I address some of the reasons why I think the four-day work schedule cannot, by definition, classify as a “flexible work schedule.” 

Why Telecommuting Could Be the Answer to My Cookie Prayers

In Delaware, courts take a holiday on December 26.  Accordingly, most law firms are closed for the day, including ours.  And, not surprisingly, many Delaware lawyers will work anyway.  Duty calls. 

Is there a way to accomplish those important work tasks without having to sacrifice family time?  Enter telecommuting. image

Technically speaking, telecommuting is one of many flexible work initiatives.  A telecommuter works from home full-time or several days out of the work week.  Telework or telecommuting involves work that normally would have been performed from a central office setting but can now be performed at home or remote location.  Telework requires the use a computer, an internet connection, telephone, scanner, and, perhaps, a fax machine. 

Telecommuting is an employment arrangement that involves moving work to the workers instead of workers to work.

Proponents of telecommuting claim (with good support), that efficiently run programs can offer employers the following benefits:

  • Cost Savings through the reduction of overhead and fixed costs, such as rent.

  • Increased Productivity of 10-40%, due in part to the absence of typical office interruptions.

  • Improved Motivation of employees who see the program as a sign of trust and confidence.

  • Skills Retention when an employee who would otherwise leave the workplace is able to stay. Includes employees on maternity leave, whose families move out of the area, whose disability prevents them from working in the standard office set-up, or who are nearing retirement but who the employer wants to retain as long as possible.

  • Organization Flexibility is substantially improved. Teams can be created without consideration for geography or the need for travel. 

  • Flexible Staffing by reducing the number of hours worked to those with the highest demand.

  • External disruptions, such as natural disasters, inclement weather, traffic problems, and even security issues, have a lesser impact on the organization’s ability to operate at a fully functional level.

  • Enhanced Customer Service, which can be extended beyond the working day or the working week without the costs of overtime payments or the need for staff to work non-traditional business hours.

Each of these claimed benefits have at least some legitimacy.  Although telework may not be appropriate for every type of job or every type of workplace, it certainly seems to be attractive on a day like today when there’s no need to be in the office and when my mother-in-law’s cookies are guaranteed to be gone before lunch!

For more information on telecommuting or other flexible work schedules, be sure to see the Working TIme category, under Telecommuting.

Developments in Work-Family Issues

Flexible work schedules are continually becoming one of the most demanded employment benefits.  Life Meets Work is an organization that promotes flexible work schedules and alternative work arrangements. The organization is currently conducting its first annual survey on the topic of work-life balance. karen_juggler

The goal of the survey, called Flexing, Floundering, or ‘Just Fine Thanks’: Work/Life Issues in America, is to capture the opinions of Americans challenges in balancing work and life, the role of government in work-life initiatives, and flexible work programs. Life Meets Work also wants to hear about the flex programs, and work-life initiatives from an employer’s perspective.

Whether you’re working parent, stay-at-home mom, business owner or human resources executive, Life Meets Work want to hear from you. The survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Your responses are confidential.

The results of the study, along with a corresponding white paper, will be presented on a free Webinar, appropriately titled after the survey,  on October 28, 2008.

Dear Governor Palin, Will You Support Working Moms? Check Yes or No

With the ever-increasing interest in alternative work schedules, Americans are curious how the candidates in this year’s election feel about work-life issues, particularly our first woman (and mother)  Vice Presidential nominee.  MomsRising.org is an advocacy organization lobbying for the need of a more family-friendly America. They have drafted the following letter they encourage you to sign and submit to Governor Palin. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Governor Palin,6a00d8341bf80c53ef00e54f6d38b18834-800wi

It was dazzling to see a mom on the stage at the Republican convention accepting  the Vice Presidential nomination.  There are too few mothers in the boardrooms and high levels of political office.  As members of MomsRising.org we celebrate your path from PTA to Vice Presidential candidate, but we didn’t hear much in your speech about what you and your party will do for mothers and families. 

Due to the economic downturn, mothers and families are struggling more than before.  A quarter of families with children under age six are living in poverty, and having a baby is a leading cause of a “poverty spell” in our nation–a time when income dips below what’s needed for food and rent.  Women get a huge wage hit when they have children: mothers make only 73 cents to a man’s dollar, and single moms make only about 60cents.  Countries with family-friendly policies and programs in place–like paid family leave and affordable childcare–have smaller wage gaps for mothers, healthier children, and spend less funds later on the criminal justice system, grade repetitions, healthcare, and much more.

Our nation can’t afford to ignore the issues of mothers and families any longer.  We want to know where you stand on the issues which are critical to mothers like healthcare, fair pay, paid family and medical leave, afterschool programs, childcare/early learning, paid sick days, and flexible work options.
With now three-quarters of American mothers in the labor force, but a societal structure which hasn’t caught up to that modern reality, we, as a nation, are at a crisis point for our families.  Bottom Line: Mothers want to ensure the well-being of their families.  No mother should have to choose between taking care of a sick child and feeding her child. And no mother should have to choose between taking her child to the doctor and paying rent.

Governor Palin, if elected Vice President of the United States, how will you support mothers and families? Mothers across the nation look forward to hearing where you stand on our issues.

To submit this letter, visit MomsRising.org , and simply sign your name electronically to the letter, which will then be submitted by the organization to Palin.

Telecommuting Is a Way to Work More–Not to Drive Less

Alternative schedules, such as “4/10s” (a/k/a four-day workweeks), have been hot topics for the past several months.  I know I’ve put more than my two cents worth of commentary out there recently.  So why is it that only a tiny percentage of the country’s employees report having access to such flex-time initiatives?  j0400948

In a recent Gallup Poll, only 12% of workers say that their employers encouraged its employees to work from home one or more workdays per week.  And only 16% say that the idea of the 4-day workweek has been supported by management.  Yes, these are increases from alternative schedules reported in the past but they can hardly be considered to be representative of the general population. 

What hasn’t increased, though, is telecommuting.  There has been 0% increase in the number of respondents who say they telecommute at all.  Well, no, that’s inaccurate–that number has actually fallen 2%, down to 30% today as compared to 32% in 2006. 

What I found most important was the finding that employees who reported that they have telecommuted say that they do so as a way to put in extra hours on nights or on weekends.  Telecommuting, it seems, has no correlation to a reduced cost of driving. 

Legal Considerations for the Four-Day Work Week

Any employer considering a four-day work week should consider the possible legal implications before making the plunge.  Four-day-work-week policies potentially invoke several employment laws that may impact the decision-making process.  So, prior to switching to a compressed schedule, read on for some thoughts on how such a switch may trigger obligations under the ADA, FMLA, NLRA, and other significant employment laws.


[This post covers an important topic in some detail and is may be a lot of information to digest at once. I’ve made the material available in a pdf via the link below]image


The Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), prohibits workplace discrimination against qualified individuals with a disability. Employers have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an individual, unless the employer can show that the accommodation imposes an undue hardship or the person poses a significant risk of substantial harm to himself or others.

There is some risk that a compressed work week may have negative consequences for employees protected by the ADA.  For example, employees who have a disability that causes fatigue or weakness may require shorter work days and longer work weeks as a reasonable accommodation. In a workplace where all employees are converted to a compressed work week, the ADA would not require the employer to make an accommodation for the individual.  In that case, though, the employee who is unable to work an extended shift could find himself unemployed.

Of course, you may decide to offer the employee the opportunity to convert to a part-time schedule, thereby enabling him to continue on the reduced-hour shift. But if this alternative would cause the employee to lose his or her health-care coverage, it may not be seen as an alternative at all. Where only some of the workforce is converted to the reduced-day schedule, the employer should make every reasonable effort to preserve the employee’s accommodation by ensuring that he is not required to convert to the compressed work week.

Another scenario with the potential for negative consequences is in the case of an employee who takes time off for the treatment of a long-term or chronic condition. For example, an employee may be given off every Thursday afternoon so that he can receive kidney dialysis. This type of accommodation may have a more serious impact on the productivity of the workplace in a
four-day week. If he had previously been permitted to leave on Thursdays at 3pm instead of 5 pm, the company could be said to have lost 2 hours of work product during that time. Yet, in the compressed work week, the employee, who was too fatigued to return to work following his dialysis treatment, would now be out from 3 pm to 7 pm—doubling the lost time to 4 hours.

Although the employee may be able to push back the time for his weekly appointment to 5 pm, or even reschedule them for Friday afternoons instead, it is also possible that he may not be able to make the change for any number of reasons. It is safe to presume that he needed the appointment on Thursday originally for a reason, thereby necessitating the accommodation in the first place. In this case, the employer would have to find a way to work around the four hours of lost productivity. It would likely violate the ADA to revoke the employee’s accommodation.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act ( “FMLA”), provides up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a twelve-month period for one of four qualifying reasons: (1) the birth of a child and the first year care of the newborn; (2) the placement of a child through adoption or foster care and the
first year care of the child; (3) the need to care for a parent, spouse or child with a serious health condition; and (4) the serious health condition of the eligible employee.  The FMLA provides for intermittent leave, which is taken in separate blocks of time due to a single qualifying reason.

The same concerns identified in the ADA scenario, above, are also present in the context of FMLA intermittent leave. Because the 4/10 schedule puts a heavy emphasis on increased productivity via a shortened work week, absenteeism would have a greater impact.

But productivity is not the only concern. The more stress put on an organization as a result of an employee taking protected leave, the more likely it is that the employee will be subject to unlawful retaliation. Supervisors who are unfamiliar with the anti-retaliation provisions of the FMLA may be more likely to terminate, or take other adverse action against an employee who is on
protected leave.


The National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRB”), is the statute that governs union activity. As the NLRB has been interpreted, a change in work schedules is a mandatory subject of bargaining. In other words, employers in the unionized workplace may not unilaterally institute a four-day work week policy. Instead, the union would have to consent to such a change. This, of course, could trigger negotiations on other, unrelated issues. 


The Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), controls the way in which regular wages are determined. The FLSA mandates the minimum wage, for example. It also provides the standards for what constitutes overtime hours and how overtime rates are calculated. It regulates what pay records employers must maintain and for how long.

Finally, the FLSA is the law that governs child labor.  The FLSA imposes limits on the hours that a minor under 16 can work. Parallel state laws often impose stricter limits—regulating which hours, the total number of hours, and the maximum number of consecutive hours that a minor may be permitted to work. The U.S. Department of Labor provides a link to each state’s child-labor laws. Be sure to check every state in which you may employ children under 18 so that you are in compliance with those state’s laws, as well as the FLSA. (http://www.youthrules.dol.gov/states.htm)

Some of the most misunderstood provisions of the FLSA are the overtime regulations. According to federal law, employers must pay non-exempt employees at one and one-half times the regular rate of pay whenever the employee works any hours in excess of 40 during the work week. Federal overtime law does not require premium pay for time worked in excess of 8 hours per day.
It is common practice in many industries, though, to pay overtime (or even double time) to employees who work a shift longer than the standard 8 hours.

How these industries would handle a compressed work week is unclear. It seems highly unlikely that those employers will continue to pay a premium rate for what would be standard time. As a result, employees who have come to rely on the extra income may resist making the change. Would the drop in pay drive the employees to look for work with another organization?

In a few states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, and Nevada, employers are required to pay an overtime rate based on
the number of hours worked per day, as opposed to per week. So, in Alaska, employers who implement a compressed work week will be required to pay employees two hours per day, or eight hours per work week at time and one-half of their normal hourly rate.  Calculated over the period of a year, this means that employers would be paying for approximately 400 hours per employee for time that was not actually worked.

Special Considerations in California

California employers face additional obstacles. In accordance with the California Labor Code,  employees who work 10 hours or more per day in a 40-hour work week must be compensated at their overtime rate. To implement an alternative work schedule, employers must comply with some onerous requirements.

The plan must be described in a written notice that must be provided to the affected work unit. A meeting must be held where the employees are given the opportunity to discuss the proposal. Then, a secret-ballot election is held no fewer than 14 days after the meeting. More than two-thirds of the work unit must vote to approve the schedule.

The employer has 30 days to report the results to the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. In addition, workers cannot be required to work the new schedule for another 30 days. During these forty-four (or more) days, there can be work stoppages and other disruptions to the workplace as the focus turns to the proposed change in schedules.

Will Mandatory “Commuter Benefits” Lead to More Compressed Workweeks?

Employers are going green.  Employees are compressing their work weeks and saving gas.  And now, one major U.S. city is mandating employers provide “commuter benefits” to employees.  Will this prompt more employers to adopt a four-day workweek?  image

Some key features of the new ordinance: 

Beginning 120 days after August 22, 2008 [December 22, 2008], San Francisco employers with 20 or more employees must provide commuter benefits to employees who work at least 10 hours of work per workweek within the geographic boundaries of San Francisco. This includes offering employees at least one of the following transportation benefits:

1. A pre-tax election of a maximum of $110 per month, consistent with current federal law; or
2. An employer-provided transportation pass (or provide reimbursement for) equal in value of $45 (or more) per month; or
3. Employer provided transportation at no cost to employees.

Is this a prediction of things to come?  If employers are required to pay employees up to $110 per month for the costs of commuting, I’d say that the four-day work week movement would likely explode.  One of the big motivators of the four-day work week has been the high cost of fuel. Employers claim that the compressed workweek will help alleviate the cost of gasoline for employees. 

[H/T to California’s favorite HR blogger, HR Lori]

For more on the Four-Day Work Week, the pros and cons, various alternatives, and considerations for implementation, see:

  1. Feds Take a Cue from the States and Consider the 4-Day Workweek
  2. 35 Questions You Should Ask When Drafting a Compressed Work Week Policy
  3. Positive Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week
  4. 5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace
  5. Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*
  6. It’s Saturday Today in Utah: 4 Day Work Week
  7. Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week
  8. Popularity of the 4-day Week Continues to Grow
  9. Will Four-Day School Week Push the Four-Day Work Week Trend?
  10. Utah’s Mandatory 4-Day Work Week Will Save the World. Sort of.
  11. Alternative Work Arrangement May Soon Become Mandatory
  12. I Hate To Say “I Told You So”–The 4-Day Workweek Is a Hot Topic
  13. How the Current Economy Could Affect the Future of Flextime
  14. New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules 
  15. The Pros and Cons of a 4-Day Workweek: Cons 
  16. New Survey on Workplace Lateness Supports Flextime Initiatives?

New Survey on Workplace Lateness Supports Flextime Initiatives?

15% of workers say they are late to work at least once a week and nearly 25% lie about the reasons why.  According to a new CareerBuilder.com survey, 2008 Late to Work Survey, 43% of managers say they don’t mind if employees are late as long as their work is finished on time and done well.  Other managers, though, reported that they would consider terminating an employee who arrived late several times a year. 

When asked about the reasons for their tardiness, traffic was far and away the most common excuse, reported by more than 32% of employees surveyed.   17% reported that they had fallen back asleep and 7% pointed to a long commute.  27% of managers didn’t buy it, saying they were skeptical of the excuses.

In light of these statistics, is there a case to be made for flexible-hour initiatives?  Obviously, certain jobs require adherence to a specific schedule and do not allow for employees to come and go as they please.  Customer satisfaction, for example, would not benefit from a customer-service department where the phones went unmanned because employees decided to arrive later in the morning.  But other jobs can be performed successfully with flexible hours.  As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”  Is there some validity to that phrase in this context?


The Pros and Cons of a 4-Day Workweek: Cons

A lot of employees are big fans of the 4-day workweek. Four, ten-hour days to replace the normal 9-to-5 schedule we’ve all come know as “standard.” It’s a popular idea and it’s catching on like crazy, especially in the public sector. But there are two sides to every story, right? Earlier this week I discussed the pros, so now it’s time to look at the cons. Some of the ideas below were sent to me by readers who feel strongly that a four-day week is a bad thing. And just to show that they’re not alone, even Forbes recently ran an article called, Why the Four Day Work Week Doesn’t Work.

So, what’s not to love about a 4/10 compressed schedule?

Where should I start?

1. Decreased Productivity. Many people find it difficult to stay focused for eight hours. Adding two more hours may not result in any more work at all. Or, the work that is performed may be performed inefficiently or with errors.

2. Wrong Perspective. Author Cali Ressler says that this is the wrong approach to work. Instead of continuing to focus on the amount of time we spend doing work, she advocates that employers start to look at the results of the time we spend doing work. In a results-oriented approach, like the one she helped implement at Best Buy, how long employees is irrelevant as long as they get the work completed.

3. No Fuel Savings. Employees will still be driving on the fifth day—just not to work. Although they won’t be spending gas money on the commute, they will still have to fill the tank to run errands and make other trips that they didn’t do after their long workday.

4. Access to Child Care. Because the four-day workweek is new to many, childcare providers are not likely to change their business hours. Extended time at daycare means extended costs—often at a premium. This additional cost offsets the purported fuel savings.

5. Decreased Family Time. In reality, after a ten-hour work day, many people find that they are too tired for a family game night, or to attend a sports event. Remember, it’s not just 10 hours of work, by the time you figure in wake-up time and day-care drop-off in the morning and pick-up at night, employees will have been going strong for more than 13 hours, and that’s before anyone eats dinner. The result is a Friday packed with the errands and activities that were not accomplished after work and not much additional family time at all.

6. Decreased Morale. Long hours lead to fatigue, which leads to decreased morale. Long days spent in the office with colleagues with whom they may or may not get along can cause additional tension.

7. Day 5. When the nature of work requires employees to be accountable to clients or customers who do not work a four-day week, it may be unrealistic to think that their demands will not require attention on Fridays. Instead of a compressed schedule, employees may find that they’re working an extended schedule.

8. More Micro-Management. In order to reap the benefits of a compressed schedule, the typical workday slacking must be eliminated. Down-time for internet browsing and extra breaks have a greater impact and will require managers to become more involved on the ground level to ensure these time-wasters do not occur.

Want More on the 4-Day Work Week?

  1. Feds Take a Cue from the States and Consider the 4-Day Workweek
  2. 35 Questions You Should Ask When Drafting a Compressed Work Week Policy
  3. Positive Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week
  4. 5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace
  5. Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*
  6. It’s Saturday Today in Utah: 4 Day Work Week
  7. Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week
  8. Popularity of the 4-day Week Continues to Grow
  9. Will Four-Day School Week Push the Four-Day Work Week Trend?
  10. Utah’s Mandatory 4-Day Work Week Will Save the World. Sort of.
  11. Alternative Work Arrangement May Soon Become Mandatory
  12. I Hate To Say “I Told You So”–The 4-Day Workweek Is a Hot Topic
  13. How the Current Economy Could Affect the Future of Flextime
  14. New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules