Employees love flexible work arrangements, and employers benefit from higher morale, lower absenteeism, and being able to attract better quality workers. But flexible work plans don’t come without problems. Here’s a rundown of the most common issues and the ways to solve them.
Since 1973 when Hewlett-Packard became the first U.S. company to institute flex time, flexible work arrangements have grown in popularity and use. A study of
Smaller businesses often offer flex plans as a successful recruitment tactic. It is one of the ways they can stay competitive with bigger companies that frequently offer a better package of salary and health insurance benefits but may require a more traditional work schedule.
Accolades abound about flex arrangement merits for both employer and employee:
- Improved job satisfaction, morale, and productivity.
- Enhanced employee recruitment and retention.
- Increased energy and creativity.
- Reduced absenteeism.
- Reduced stress and burn out.
- Improved balance of work and family life.
The most popular flexible work arrangements today include the following:
- Flex Time: Employees are offered a range of starting and ending times for the workday; most shifts with a mandatory “core” time in the middle of the day.
- Compressed work weeks: Employees work 40 hours in fewer than five days. A 10-hour, four-day week is commonly used, or another alternative such as working nine days out of ten in a two-week schedule.
- Telecommuting: Employees work from home or another remote location on an approved schedule.
- Part-time Work or Job Sharing: Employees work fewer hours, or two employees share the same position, splitting the responsibility for the work between them.
Problems and Solutions
Employers can help ensure that both they and their workers reap the benefits of flexible work arrangements by being aware of some of the most common problems associated with these plans and how to avoid them:
Problem #1. Failure to Include Employees in Planning Stage
One of the most common mistakes that companies make when establishing flex plans is insufficient communication with workers.
Solution: Seek input from employees on their interest and needs as you develop a flexible work program. Assess whether or not the new work arrangement is appropriate for their type of work. Will workers be able to continue to function effectively? The best arrangement is one that addresses employees’ personal needs or wants and at the same time addresses the company’s needs to provide high quality products and services.
Problem #2. Failure to Identify that Certain Positions/Individuals are not Conducive to Flexible Work Arrangements
Solution: Do your homework. Will the arrangement cause difficulties in ensuring office coverage? Will it cause customer complaints about availability? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Is there any employee interest in the plan? Will it cause a problem in scheduling meetings?
An individual’s work style and history should also support the demands of the arrangement; i.e., Employees who have shown an inability to work well independently would not be ideal candidates for telecommuting arrangements, and employees without the needed physical and emotional stamina would not be able to sustain the long hours needed for compressed work schedules.
Problem #3. Informal Policies that Lead to Inconsistencies and Inequities
Inconsistent application of informal policies can cause resentment, poor morale, loss of employees and even legal action.
Solution: Develop and prepare a formal written policy on company flexible work plans that is detailed, clearly-stated and non-discriminatory.
Problem #4. Decrease in Communication
Work arrangements such as telecommuting can result in a lack of business and social contact with co-workers and supervisors.
Solution: Conduct staff meetings that include flex staff so that they are not excluded from information sharing or alienated from coworkers and managers. Telecommuters’ contact with other employees should not be limited to email; efforts should be made to include telephone contact, especially with supervisors.
Problem #5. Resistance of Management
Managers are not always eager to relinquish direct supervision of staff “on-site” where they can visually evaluate the work process of employees.
Solution: Managers may need to be educated in order to change their mindset. They will need to learn to manage in a system based on trust and respect, where it primarily the results, rather than the work process, that is evaluated. Most output can be measured wherever a person may be located.
Problem #6. Failure to Monitor, Assess and Update Flexible Work Arrangements
Flexible work arrangements may require a continual process of improvements or developments.
Solution: After a flex program has been initiated, take the time to assess its success in meeting goals, and make any necessary adjustments. Keep the lines of communication open with employees in terms of encouraging and listening to feedback. When initiating a new plan, pilot programs with a limited time frame can be useful. At the onset, advise employees that – if the plan proves unsuccessful – a return to prior traditional work arrangements may result.
Problem #7. Legal Pitfalls
Lawsuits have been charged against businesses in recent years with a number of flex time abuses. Most flex time litigation has to do with the misclassification of workers as being exempt from overtime. There is also the danger of a worker being injured at home while performing company business, which may also result in litigation.
Solution: Employers must precisely determine which employees are exempt or non-exempt. Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in addition to 40-hours in any given work-week. These employees must be required to document and submit hours worked.
Employers need to communicate with home workers that they are required to work in a healthy and safe home office environment. Advise home workers that they need to report any work-related injuries to you within 24 hours of occurrence. If an employee reports getting injured at home, be sure to get a detailed account of the particular work activities performed at the time of injury.
Although implementing a flexible work program may take time and planning, the benefits can be well worth the effort for small business. Among the benefits: increased job satisfaction, lower absenteeism and increased loyalty to the employer.