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.

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?

 

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.

Alternative Work Arrangement May Soon Become Mandatory

The four-day workweek is gaining momentum. The rising price of fuel has caused many workers to pursue alternative working schedules.  A shortened week has seen a rapid increase in popularity. Even schools have considered the idea of reducing operation costs by closing their doors on Fridays.  Another employee alternative is telecommuting.  A new bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, proposes to mandate this “alternative.”telecommuter

 

If passed, the bill would authorize all federal employees to work from home (i.e., telecommute), for at least 20% of their work hours every two weeks.  Federal agencies would be charged with creating programs that include this requirement. 

 

The bill doesn’t seem to take into account that telecommuting doesn’t always work.  Just ask the employees of the State of Ohio.  As reported by the New York Times back in April (see Ohio State Workers Are Coping: It’s Now 8 to 5), Ohio officials had tried unsuccessfully to implement a 4-day work week.  After several months on the 4 10-hour workdays, state officials planned to eliminate the alternative schedule in order to provide the basic level of customer service.  On the four-day-week program, departments were closed, phones unanswered, and the needs of citizens not met on Fridays.  Ohio officials did not prohibit telecommuting or flexible work hours–but compressed schedules (4-days workweeks) were off-limits.

Also see:

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

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

“The four-day workweek, with 10-hour workdays for the first four days of the week and a fifth day off, could become a popular option for the cost-conscious commuter.”  In my post earlier this week, How the Current Economy Could Affect the Future of Flextime, I considered whether the price of fuel might push employers to be more permissive of alternative and flexible schedules.

Well, I hate to say “I told you so,” so I’ll say instead that, “Great minds think alike.” There has been a flurry of similar speculations in the news all week. 

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Ohio’s Kent State University has already made the switch, permitting custodial employees to elect to work a four-day week.  And municipal governments across the country, from Hollywood, Florida, to the Webster Parish in Louisiana, to St. Lawrence County in N.Y. are considering making the change. 

The N.Y. Times reports that even school districts are moving to a shortened week to help cut fuel costs.

USA Today has the following to report:

In Alabama, the city of Birmingham decided to adopt a four-day week for employees starting July 1.

“We are doing it in an effort to help employees save some money on gasoline,” says Deborah Vance, chief of staff to the mayor. “Offices and departments that deal directly with the public will maintain their five-day schedule.”

On June 2, road crews in Walworth County in Wisconsin will start working four-day shifts. Shane Crawford, a deputy administrator, said his county experimented with four-day workweeks last summer. Crews spent less time on the road driving to and from work sites, reducing fuel and overtime costs.

Starting June 1, Avondale, Ariz., will move to a four-day workweek at City Hall. That eliminates one day of commuting for about 150 employees. Claudia Whitehead, the town’s economic development director, who says her monthly gas costs were starting to rival her car payments, spends about two hours a day commuting. “It’ll have a real positive impact,” she says.

Among businesses, 26% are offering a flexible schedule to help employees with high gas prices, a May survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found. And nearly half of professionals say higher gas prices have affected their commutes, according to a recent survey by Robert Half International, up from 34% two years ago in a similar survey.

Some employers that can manage it are moving to shut down for one day. For one day a week, vehicles used for work can sit idle, or air conditioning can be kept off.

How the Current Economy Could Affect the Future of Flextime

Flexible work schedules (aka “alternative work schedules” or “flextime schedules”) enable employees to work at varying times instead of the typical 9 to 5, 8-hour workday. This arrangement became popular as more career-women found they need some flexibility to deal with the hectic schedules of their families.  Not inclined to forego either, they forged the frontier of alternative schedules.  The future of flextime remains unclear.

gas prices arm leg both

A few days ago, my colleague, Adria Martinelli, posted on the results of a recent survey (New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules), which indicate the decline of flexible work schedules.  The survey reflects statistics from the last 10 years and reflects employers of various sizes located across the country. 

Adria raised an excellent point–is the decline in alternative schedules linked to the sinking economy?  Certainly, one can imagine that, right or wrong, some employers may believe that it is more costly to employ workers on a flextime program. 

Historically, there has been a common theory that it was not profitable to use this model because of the cost of overhead per employee.  In other words, every employee, regardless of whether they work 60 or 28 hours per week still needs an office or workstation and are still entitled to benefits such as health care and employer-sponsored savings plans.  It was thought that the administrative costs incurred in running the business remained flat while the bottom line earnings of the company could decrease as more employees worked less time.

But what if the troubled economic times actually caused an increase in flextime or alternative working schedules?  As the cost of gasoline has risen, so has the cost of living.  The American workforce has had to become more and more cautious about their expenditures, some employees even taking second jobs to stay afloat in the rocky financial waters.

To cut the costs associated with the daily commute, employees have started carpooling, taking public transportation, and increasingly turned to more gas-efficient cars instead of the beloved SUV.  But what if these measures are not enough?  How many more alternatives can there really be for employees overwhelmed by the cost of fuel?

One idea that may surface in the not-so-distant future is an alternative work schedule.  A four-day workweek, where workers pack 10-hour workdays into the first four days of the week and have the fifth day off, could become a popular option for the cost-conscious commuter.

In that case, a flextime schedule would save travel time (as much as 2 hours a week for many employees who drive into a city from the suburbs), gas money, and would give them an opportunity to work on that “work-life balance” they’ve heard so much about. 

New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules

flextimeFamily Responsibility discrimination (FRD) and gender discrimination are the targets of many advocacy groups who work to promote family-friendly workplaces.  WorkLife Law, 9to5, and Families and Work Institute are just some of them. Families & Work Institute released a study on May 21, the 2008 National Study of Employers, which followed ten-year trends in U.S. workplace policies and benefits. The results were mixed. Continue reading