When Choosing Which Flex-Time Alternatives to Offer, Compare the Benefits

Employers who may be considering offering flexible work arrangements to employees should do their homework before selecting which type of program (or programs) to offer. We’ve previously discussed the various types of flex-time options.   clock

But once you know what’s out there, you should be sure you also understand how each option may or may not maximize your return on investment. Look to the benefits of each type to determine whether those are results that satisfy some need in your organization. Although each one provides benefits in one form or another, they simply may not be benefits from where you’re standing.

Here are a few benefits for each of the major types of flexible work arrangements. Use these as the starting point to determine whether each one may be of interest to your company.

Flextime

· Improve efficiency if schedules are linked directly to correspond with employees’ most productive times.

· Gives employees more control over scheduling personal responsibilities at either the beginning or end of the workday

· Avoid rush-hour commuting—a quality-of-life and an environmental benefit.

Compressed Workweek

· Improves productivity if some work can be accomplished during quieter times of the day

· Provides more days off

· Decreases the number of days employees commute, including the time and costs inherent to the commute.

· Avoid rush-hour commuting.

Part-Time Work

· Retains employees who need time off for personal or family reasons.

· Expands the labor pool to include retirees, students, and persons with disabilities.

· Gives employees time for education purposes, such as working towards a degree, or other similar, personal-improvement objectives.

· Provides for an option for the gradual return to work after maternity leave or other absences.

· Allows gradual entry into retirement, and, in turn, improved transfer of knowledge through succession planning.

Job Sharing

· The same benefits as those experienced as a result of part-time schedules.

· Brings broader range of knowledge and skills t a position.

· Provides cross-training and skill-enhancement, and facilitates knowledge sharing.

· Enables continuity of coverage when one partner is sick or otherwise unavailable.

· Continuous implementation of team-based efforts fosters a sense of unity and cooperation

Telecommuting

· Offers alternative to relocation

· Expands recruitment pool geographically

· Reduces office space and associated overhead costs
Can accommodate persons with disabilities.

· Decreases or eliminates commuting time.

· Increases productivity by enabling employees to work at their most productive time.

· Decreases the number of days employees commute, including the time and costs inherent to the commute

· Decreases other employee expenses, such as meals and clothing.

Feds Take a Cue from the States and Consider the 4-Day Workweek

Is the federal government the next to implement a four-day work week? Maybe. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) wants the idea to be considered, anyway. He’s asked the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), to “undertake comprehensive analysis of the transitioning to a 4-day work week for all possible federal employees and inform me by August 31, of any additional actions Congress would need to take to implement such a policy by the end of fiscal year 2008.”

Presumably, the idea would be to switch to a mandatory four-day week, like the Utah example. Federal agencies already have the discretion to implement a compressed schedule agency-wide or on a case-by-case basis. The Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1982 (the F&CWS law), authorizes a “versatile and innovative work scheduling program for use in the Federal Government.” image

The OPF previously recognized the value of alternative schedules as a way to attract and retain federal employees. In “Negotiating Flexible and Compressed Schedules,” the OPM concluded that alternative schedules will be an important part of the government’s future staffing efforts:

By all accounts, the workforce of tomorrow will be older, more culturally and ethnically diverse, and will consist of more female workers than ever. This diversity will require the Federal Government to utilize new and innovative approaches toward managing human resources and delivering services. To succeed, the Government must successfully compete for skilled workers; and it must be able retain them by providing challenging job opportunities and the flexibility to accommodate family responsibilities and other activities outside work. Flexible and compressed work schedules that are carefully planned and implemented can help make the Government more successful in its recruitment efforts, and more competitive and efficient in the bargaining should be undertaken with the goal of establishing flexible and compressed work schedules that support work and family programs, encourage the participation of employees and management, and also set up administrative controls necessary for the efficient operation of the agency and the success of the established work schedule.

August 31st is just around the corner so we’ll have to wait to see what the OPM concludes in response to Hoyer’s inquiry. In the meantime, catch up on the four-day workweek trend.

35 Questions You Should Ask When Drafting a Compressed Work Week Policy

The current rage in the public sector is the four-day work week. The idea of a compressed work week has caught on in cities and towns across the country and, for now, in one state (Utah), though it’s not hard to imagine that other states will follow in the future. The private sector has not been as enthusiastic about the idea, or at least so quick to act.  Continue reading

Positive Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week

The four-day work week continues its winning streak. Counties, towns, and cities across the nation are considering switching to the compressed-week schedule, that is, if they haven’t implemented it already. (See Popularity of the 4-day Week Continues to Grow). And, as previously discussed, Utah was the first state to adopt a 4/10 workweek statewide. (See Utah’s Mandatory 4-Day Work Week Will Save the World. Sort of.).   add

As of yet, though, I am still on the fence. I can’t say I’m opposed to the idea. But I do have substantial doubts about the benefits of a longer workday. I also have concerns about the impact the shortened workweek will have on access to public services—especially by those who are in the most serious need of that access.

But, all of those questions aside, I can’t help but recognize the enthusiasm some have expressed at the idea of a Friday-free workweek. (Hopefully I’ll be a bit more firm in my opinion by September 16, 2008, when I’ll be presenting an audioconference with Rex L. Facer, Plan & Implement Your 4-day Work Week). For employers who are not quite convinced that a four-day workweek is a magic cure-all, it may be helpful to review some of the positive benefits that are said to result from the shortened work week. Here are of the “pros” from my Pros and Cons List on the topic. These might give you a start in evaluating whether such a program is a good fit for your workplace.

  1. Reduced fuel costs. Employees would have to endure the dreaded commute one less day each week, thereby saving money at the pump with reduced fuel consumption.
  2. Decreased absenteeism. On a five-day schedule, employees are forced to cram their two days off with personal errands, chores, soccer games, and social outings. By the time Monday comes around, there hasn’t been a minute of rest and employees are just plum beat. So they call out of work. This wouldn’t happen so frequently if employees had a third day to accomplish the work they have to do outside of work.
  3. Increased productivity. It’s a well-established principle of productivity that workers become less efficient where no deadline looms. That’s why we’re more efficient in the week before vacation—we know we have to get it done by the time we leave. The same idea is transferable to a shortened workweek. Employees are least productive on Fridays so why not just eliminate them altogether?
  4. Improved job satisfaction and morale. Satisfaction with what goes on in the workplace may be tied to what goes on outside of the workplace. Employees who spend more time with family and friends, who have the flexibility of three days off, will return to work refreshed, and generally less hostile to their employer.
  5. Reduced personnel turnover. Not surprisingly, #4 leads to #5. Happier employees tend to leave less often. If they like the job, they’re more likely to stick around.
  6. Reduced energy costs. By closing for three, instead of two, days each week, employers stand to recognize substantial energy costs. These costs can be significant where the schedule will actually permit the employer to close an entire facility for an additional day.
  7. Improved work-life balance. As a result of the added day, employees who work a four-day week will have more time to spend with their families and friends.
  8. Reduced traffic congestion. This potential effect may be seen largely on Fridays, which is the day most employers are converting to a non-working day.

Previous Posts on the 4-Day Work Week

5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace

Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*

It’s Saturday Today in Utah: 4 Day Work Week

Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week

Popularity of the 4-day Week Continues to Grow

Will Four-Day School Week Push the Four-Day Work Week Trend?

Utah’s Mandatory 4-Day Work Week Will Save the World. Sort of.

Alternative Work Arrangement May Soon Become Mandatory

I Hate To Say “I Told You So”–The 4-Day Workweek Is a Hot Topic

How the Current Economy Could Affect the Future of Flextime

New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules

5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace

Flexible_Work_Schedule_HourglassMore and more employers are recognizing the value of offering flexible-schedule options to their workforce According to the recently released Top 50 Law Firms for Women, even the legal industry is putting a premium on flexible options as a way to retain valued employees. At first, many employers want to approach flexible schedules and alternative work arrangements on a case-by-case basis. And, although this is a good way to find the best fit for your organization, it is also a potential hotspot for employees to feel they’ve been treated unfairly when compared to others who made similar requests.  Continue reading

Working Mothers Magazine Announces 50 Best Law Firms for Women

The legal profession has been unable to retain women at rates comparable to other knowledge-based and professional industries.  There often appears to be just two choices for women with families–work around the clock and forgo quality time at home, or step off the partnership track permanently.  Many law firms are working to broaden the range of choices.  Flexible work arrangements are quickly becoming the most successful choice offered.  image

Working Mothers Magazine published its list of the 50 Best Law Firms for Women, which acknowledges firms working hard to retain female attorneys.  Flexible work schedules are the most common initiative but not the only one.  These firms host networking groups for female lawyers, have formal mentoring programs for senior female associates, and provide management training–all with the goal of helping make more women reach partnership. 

The winning features of each of the firms are listed in this article (pdf): 

Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*

A mandatory four-day work week could create substantial economic savings for employers.  For example, Wake County in North Carolina estimates that it will save approximately $300,000 per year on utilities by closing its offices on Fridays.

However, not everyone supports the idea of a mandatory four-day work week.  Some parents may have to pay additional costs for early morning childcare, parents of older children may be forced to miss evening activities like sports games, and as a recent post pointed out, four ten-hour days may just be too exhausting for families with small children.  Another objection, often made by taxpayers, is that customers have come to expect service five days a week, regardless of whether they have increased access Monday through Thursday.

Enter Birmingham, Alabama.  The city switched to a voluntary four-day work week for its employees on July 1, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.  Employees still have the option of working a normal five-day schedule, and the ones who decide to work a four-day week may choose which weekday they would prefer to have as their extra day off.  The frequently cited environmental benefits of a four-day work week remain—fewer cars on the road, less traffic during rush hour, and an overall decrease in gasoline consumption.

The voluntary schedule seems to address the major complaints about a mandatory four-day week.  If an employee is unable to work a condensed week, that employee could still work a traditional five-day week.  Other employees looking for a shorter commute, an extra day off, and savings on gas could take advantage of the shorter week.

Birmingham’s voluntary four-day week also solves the problem of customer access.  With only some employees switching to the condensed schedule, customers not only have access to services five days a week, but they also receive the added benefit of earlier and later access Monday through Thursday.

The largest problem with making the four-day work week voluntary is that offices will need to remain open and powered five days a week.  This will likely negate any potential savings on utilities and make the four-day work week significantly less attractive to employers.

Given these incompatible benefits, a four-day work week is not the panacea that will solve all of the economic and environmental problems in the workplace.  But if employers are willing to give up the potential savings associated with a mandatory four-day week, a voluntary four-day schedule like Birmingham’s might be a good alternative.

 

*Guest Post by David Fry

[Editor’s Note: David is a rising second-year law student at Duke Law School with whom we had the privilege of working with this summer.  As evidenced above, David is remarkably talented and will surely make a great contribution to the practice of law when he enters the field officially.  Thank you, David!]

It’s Saturday Today in Utah: 4 Day Work Week

Utah government employees finished their first four-day work week on Thursday.  Friday was a day off, an extra Saturday, really.  And today is Saturday Number Two.  Nice.  But is it too good to be true? I’m such a cynic.  Not that I’ve formed an opinion one way or another, I just happen to be a bit doubtful that it is the cure-all that it’s being promoted to be.  Mostly, it’s the “little things” that make me think twice. It seems to me that parents with small children will have the most difficult adjustment to make. 

For example, let’s take a look at the reality of a day in the life of Utah state employees this week.  A ten-hour workday may run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.  And let’s say we have a 25-minute commute. 

6:30:  Rise and Shineclock

7:45:  Depart from home

8:05:  Drop off kids at day care

8:20:  Coffee stop

8:55:  Arrival at office

9 am to 7 pm:  Work

7 pm:  Depart from work

7:50:  After picking up kids, arrive at home. 

8:50:  Dinner

Now, let’s look at the somewhat obvious problems here. 

1.  Day care charges by the minute for time after 6 pm.

2.  Little kids don’t eat dinner at 9 pm. 

3.  Little kids are grouchy after spending 11 hours at day care.

4.  Mom and dad are grouchy after a very long day.

Is it fair to say that parents with young children will face a very difficult four days, regardless of how well the work day goes.

Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week

The popularity of a compressed workweek has skyrocketed. Workplace flexibility has long been heralded as a way to bolster employee retention. Alternative work schedules have even been lauded as a key to keeping women in the workplace and off the off-ramp.

And now, with towns and cities across the country adopting a four-day work week, the trend towards workplace flexibility isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But the four-day work week isn’t the only option. Here are some other options provided by When Work Works, a project of the Families & Work Institute:

Flex-Time.

Traditional flextime allows employees to chose their starting and quitting times within a range of hours surrounding core-operating hours. Daily flextime involves the same concept but allows employees to select their start and end times on a daily basis.

A compressed work week enables employees to work their full schedules over fewer number of working days. Usually this means 10 hours per day for 4 days, or 80 hours over 9 days. “Summer-hour” schedules add an hour to workdays Monday through Thursday, and end work at 1 pm on Fridays.

Flex-Leaves.

Time off during the workday to address personal and family issues includes time off for anticipated issues, such as parent-teacher conferences, or unanticipated issues, such as waiting at home for a repairman or delivery.

Paid time off to care for children permits employees to take off for a few days to care for a sick child without losing paid time.

Flex-Careers include multiple points for on- and off-ramping over the course of one career or working life. This can include formal leaves of absences and sabbaticals, as well as taking time out of the workforce.

Flex-Place is defined as working some or most of the employee’s working time at a location other than the employer’s main place of business. Telecommuting is included in this category.

Popularity of the 4-day Week Continues to Grow

The four-day work week has enjoyed continued popularity across the country.  Some of the recent cities and counties to implement or move closer to implementing a compressed work week for public employees are listed below.  image

Arizona:  Queen’s Creek has implemented the 4-day week on a trial basis. The town’s government offices are open extended hours Monday through Thursday and, with the exception of essential services, are closed on Friday.  The plan was initiated to boost employee morale at a time when many employees have been subject to salary reduction and hour cut-backs.

Florida:  Manatee County has begun to make the switch to a 4-day work schedule on a voluntary basis, allowing its various agencies to make the decision independently.  The Central Community Redevelopment Authority is the latest to implement the alternative schedule.

New Hampshire:  New Hampshire’s gubernatorial candidates would consider authorizing a four-day work week and telecommuting for state workers to save energy costs. But Democrats John Lynch and Katy Forry and Republican Joseph Kenney would not support a blanket telecommuting policy for all.

New Mexico: Torrance County is considering switching to a 4-day, 10-hour workweek to help employees with the cost of fuel. 

Pennsylvania:  Westmoreland County officials are considering a proposal for a flexible scheduling system so staff could work four-day work weeks as a means of reducing their travel expenses.  The Recorder of Deeds, Tom Murphy, who pitched the compressed-week idea, says he was motivated by hearing his employees talk about the price of fuel and how it affects their bottom line. 

Tennessee:  Tennessee will follow in the footsteps of Utah on Monday, August 3, 2008, when it implements a four-day workweek for all state employees.  Unlike Utah, though, Tennessee’s program is voluntary.