Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gauge whether staff can alter work routine; it can pay off on job and at home FLEXIBLE thinking

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I truly love Winnipeg's slogan -- "A great place to live, work and play" -- yet many of our workers would say they literally have no time to play! In fact, many would also say it was difficult to achieve good life/work balance.

That's because people literally run out of time.

As you know, time is definitely something you can't touch, yet it is constant and irreversible. There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and that's that. Once time has passed, you can never get it back.

Since we can't control time, the only thing workers can do is to control their relationship with time. This realization has helped many workers and organizations to start paying more attention to time and the serious constraints the demands of work and families create. This is especially so because research is demonstrating that the emotional toll on employees reflects right back on organizations, affecting morale, productivity and eventually the financial bottom line.

One recent study suggests that at least one-third of employees contacted for a telephone survey were looking for a new job because of the lack of a flexible work schedule that in turn affects life/work balance. Another two-thirds of participants indicated they were favourable to greater flexibility in their workplace. Thus, the concept of flextime is growing rapidly as an HR trend as leaders recognize that not only is it a life/work balance tool, it can also be utilized as an employee recruitment and retention tool.

Flextime refers to the ability of employees to have scheduling options for their work hours. This could represent a condensed work week that consists of four 10-hour days instead of the regular nine-to-five work week, working from home through telework on a part-time or scheduled basis, as well as job sharing and other alternatives.

During 2010/11, the national association World of Work undertook a survey of public and private corporations as well as not-for-profits and government-related agencies to determine the prevalence of flexible work schedules. It found that most flextime schedules are ad hoc rather than formal. As well, the survey found that while some organizations offered up to eight options, employees more frequently opted for part-time schedules, flex time and teleworking. As can be expected, the survey also identified that flexibility options varied by industry and size, with manufacturing businesses offering fewer flexibility options.

It was interesting to learn through the survey results that organizations with an established flexibility culture actually trained their employees to be successful with their flexible schedules and trained managers on how to lead and supervise employees whom they can't see. In addition, these organizations have a formal policy with respect to flextime and use this as a recruitment tool. Overall, it was found that organizations that used flextime reported a positive effect on employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction and lower turnover.

As indicated earlier, flextime is a growing trend that is producing enormous benefits for both employer and employee. One such company, U.S. based State Street Corp., identified that the demand for flextime among employees was growing so fast that it was compelled to implement a policy and operational framework that could be applied to its 29,000 employees worldwide.

State Street offered five flexibility options including altering start/stop times, but maintaining core hours, compressed work weeks, working from home, job share or overall reduced working hours. Managers were given guidelines for evaluating flextime requests from both the job as well as the corporate perspective. Prior to approving flextime options, managers were also required to mitigate customer service, productivity and legal risks.

Since the inception of flextime scheduling, the State Street Corp. employee survey identified an increase in employee satisfaction, an increase in productivity and a decrease in absenteeism. Finally, flextime arrangements enabled the company to overcome any impact of major storms including tornadoes and the Japanese tsunami.

With summer months and beautiful weather arriving on Manitoba's doorsteps, implementing flextime in your workplace might be a worthwhile consideration. Where and how should you begin?

First, a flextime program must be supported by senior executives, including your CEO/executive director, or else it will not be successful. A program must enable the organization to continue moving forward with its goals, including service and/or production. It should not create additional costs nor should it reduce efficiency and effectiveness.

A policy needs to be developed that outlines the framework for employee application, the criteria for selection of both individuals and job categories and the approval process. Job tasks must be suitable to a flextime arrangement and strategies must be put in place for communication, supervision and evaluation. In some cases, the best approach is to undertake a three-month pilot project and then evaluate the appropriateness of continuing.

Applications for flextime should be made in the form of a written proposal including a description of how job tasks will be accomplished, the benefits to both the individual and the organization, how communication and supervision will take place and proposals for start dates.

Managers and/or human resource professionals need to create a checklist for employees that assists them to examine the numerous issues they need to consider while writing their proposal. The checklist should focus on the various elements of their specific job, how client issues will be managed, and how the employee will communicate with co-workers, clients, supervisors and managers. The proposal needs to deal with how performance will be measured, how success of the arrangements will be gauged, how the employee will "self-manage" for success and if there will be any impact on their pay and/or benefits.

From the employer perspective, each proposal for flextime work scheduling should be evaluated on its merits. The decision must be based on whether flextime is appropriate for each specific job as well as identifying the organizational benefits, general workflow and impact on departmental efficiency and effectiveness. Finally, because employee self-management is a key to success, managers must assess an individual employee's suitability for this type of independence.

Flextime is definitely a growing trend and as summer approaches, it could be a worthwhile strategy for both employee and employer.

Source: The Business Case for Flex, Alison Quirk, HR Magazine, April 2012, Survey on Workplace Flexibility, world of Work, February, 2011

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a Talent management firm. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 H1

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