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Work/life balance benefits employer, staff

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With summer approaching, I suspect that more and more employees will be confronted with the challenge of having to balance work, children's summer activities and the need for personal vacation.

Organizations as well will confront the annual vacation schedule crunch.

Both parties may be interested in adopting a more flexible work schedule.

After all, there is much research that indicates job flexibility offers considerable benefits to both employees and employers.

For instance, it has been found that flexibility helps to decrease absenteeism while job satisfaction increases; there is greater commitment to the organization and less employee turnover.

In some cases, employers have noted not only an increase in overall productivity, but also an improvement in the quality of work.

For instance, staff at all levels of an educational institution identified flexible work hours as the most important benefit in their workplace because it allowed them to manage work and personal and/or family responsibilities.

While it can be logistically difficult to create a flexible work schedule for some jobs, the move toward matching the lives of the workers with the needs of the workplace seems to be becoming more commonplace. The challenge for many organizations, then, is how to implement a flexible workplace schedule.

To begin, the organization needs to examine the benefits and challenges of the variety of options.

The following provides a basic overview of some options that can act as guideline to facilitate your discussion.

Flexible hours of work -- Flextime offers a number of alternatives. An employee can vary their start and end time, they can take a longer midday lunch break and make up the time at the beginning or end of the day or they can create a schedule of shorter hours one day and longer the next. No matter what, the flextime hours must add up to the same number of hours scheduled to work.

Flextime is perceived as a high value benefit to employees, yet it provides a low-cost benefit to the employer. Benefits include the ability to more closely match an employee's personal needs while at the same time creating the ability for employers to improve coverage or extended hours when required.

Compressed work week -- Organizations typically implement a full-time schedule compressed into four 10 hour days when employees work a 40-hour week. As well, some apply a "summer hour" schedule where they might work longer Monday through Thursday and offer a half day on Fridays. Employees often like this arrangement as it provides for a longer weekend and more time for family activities.

This option provides all of the benefits offered with flextime and also may create the situation where there are fewer interruptions at work and therefore creates higher productivity.

Job sharing -- This represents regular part-time work where people share the responsibilities of one job. Incumbents work 50 per cent of their regular schedule using a combination of days over a two-week period. Typically, employees wishing to job share seek this arrangement for a longer period than simply summer vacation.

One of the key benefits of job sharing is that an employee who wishes to work part time will stay with you, thus your organization retains the skills. When the job sharing need has concluded, the individuals will often wish to come back on a full-time basis. This also offers opportunities for phased in retirement and creates a talent pool for future access.

Telecommuting -- Telecommuting allows employees to work at home part of the week and/or all of the week. This could be a permanent arrangement and/or temporary for a specific project or for a specific time frame. With Internet and computer access to your workplace, this is an easy benefit to implement. Employees can work regular hours and/or scattered hours as long as the work is done and customer service is continuous.

One of the key benefits of telecommuting is the ability to work with less interruption from work colleagues and/or customers. At the same time, employees can be isolated and supervision can be a challenge.

Part-time schedules -- There are indeed some work responsibilities that can be divided and then offered as distinct part-time jobs. Work can be scheduled as three to four days a week, a schedule of five half days a week and/or two days a week with longer 10-hour days. Creativity for part-time scheduling is the name of the game.

Part-time work is often of interest to young mothers, retirees and/or those baby boomers who wish to stay working but not full time. It is perceived as a valuable benefit while at the same time representing a low cost to the employer.

No matter which workplace schedule you select, the overall arrangement must support your departmental/organizational goals, including quality production or service to all key stakeholders. As well, the proposed work schedule cannot place unnecessary pressure on other employees, it cannot create overtime requirements and it cannot create other problems related to supervision or safety.

When implementing flextime arrangements, employees need to be aware that the same performance standards remain in place and that those supervisors and managers will continue to utilize the same performance measurements. Flextime arrangements must also continue to meet the needs of the organization. Finally, organizations must deal with issues such as maintaining effective channels of communication and tracking employee work hours.

While many organizations use flextime arrangements for summer vacation scheduling, longer term opportunities can also provide considerable value. However, an organizational philosophy and guidelines for eligibility need to be established. For instance, does the organization wish to use flextime as a reward for high-performing individuals? Could flextime be used as a motivator to improve performance?

In addition, organizations need to put a process in place where employees and management can effectively create flexible work options using a set of selection criteria, an application process and a monitoring and review mechanism.

Our workplaces already offer many opportunities for occasional flexibility such as personal leave for medical appointments, leaving early to attend an educational program and/or arriving late due to children's or elderly parental needs. Permanent and consistent arrangements, on the other hand, create additional opportunities that provide more consistency for all concerned. With employee retention and job satisfaction being a key issue for many employers, consistent job flexibility options offer considerable value.

Source: A Guide to job Flexibility at MIT, June 2004.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group, Manitoba's leading Talent Management Solutions firm. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of another new book called Resume Rescue. Barbara can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2010 I1

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