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Formalized Flextime The Perk That Brings Productivity

The popularity of flextime means that more companies are creating formal guidelines to ensure success.

February 11, 2001
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Benefit Design and Communication, Telecommuting
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Flexible scheduling, long considered agrudgingly given perk for working mothers, is turning out to be a strategicsolution that reduces turnover, improves morale, and draws hard-to-get talent ina painfully tight job market.

    In 1997, more than 25 million workers varied theirhours to some degree, with staggered start times, compressed workweeks, jobsharing, and part-time hours, according to the article “Flexible Schedules andShift Work: Replacing the 9-to-5 Workday?” by Thomas Beers in the June 2000issue of Monthly Labor Review. But, he adds, most flexible workers alter theirschedules on an informal basis. Statistics show that of those 25 millionworkers, less than 6 percent have formal arrangements.

    However, as flextime grows inpopularity, companies are realizing that informal schedule changes can createcommunication problems and hostility among employees. To combat this problem,more organizations are implementing formal policies that require workers topresent solid business cases for going flextime, including how it will benefittheir clients, and how they plan to communicate with team members andsupervisors.

    Companies like Ernst and Young, Hewlett Packard, andPricewaterhouseCoopers have gone so far as to create work/life programs thathelp employees and their coworkers make the transition smoothly and assure thatthe changes benefit everyone involved. Here are their stories and advice. 

Software helps employees planschedules
    “At Ernst and Young, the focus is onresults, not face time,” says Denny Marcel, a member of the company’s NewYork-based Office for Retention. “Employees know that they can choose flexiblework arrangements (FWA) and still be competent. We empower people to decide how,when, and where they get their jobs done.”

    It’s this attitude that has madeE&Y a pioneer in flex schedule options for employees - an initiative thatwas launched formally in the mid-1990s to address the balance of personal andprofessional obligations, especially among female employees. Today 1,600 ofE&Y’s 23,000 employees formally take advantage of the FWA program - 79percent of them women - and an estimated 50 percent occasionally take advantageof options like telecommuting, says Marcel.

    To make sure the initiative wassuccessful, the Office for Retention created two Lotus Notes databases - the FWADatabase and the FWA Road Map - to guide interested employees through flextimeplanning options.

    “There were people interested inflexible work arrangements who didn’t know how to do it,” says Marcel. TheFWA database features profiles and quotes from existing flextimers about theirexperiences. Anyone interested can use it to find people to network with ormentor them through the process.

    “It’s an alternative to approachingyour supervisor,” says Marcel, noting that some employees might not be readyto tell managers that they want to alter their work schedules. The database alsodebunks common myths regarding flextime arrangements, hosts a discussion boardmonitored by FWA experts and users, and has links tothe firm’s administration policies regardingwork/life issues.

    “The database educates all of ourpeople about FWA,” says Marcel. “It’s not just for the people who wantflexible schedules; it’s for their supervisors, their colleagues, and otherworkers.”

    Marcel says that for a flex program tobe successful, it’s critical that team members have access to information onhow to work with and manage flextimers.

    Once they’ve reviewed the FWAdatabase, the FWA Road Map is the next step for potential flextimers. It has aself-assessment tool that helps them evaluate their work/life issues, andwhether they have the skills and personality to succeed on a flexible schedule.It explains their options, and discusses the challenges unique to each type ofschedule.

    Along with information and surveys, theRoad Map walks employees through preparation of the business case. It has a Worddocument template that asks a series of questions about what they want, how itwill affect their team members, and how they will deal with clients.

    “Everyone at E&Y can beconsidered for the FWA program as long as they build a business case for it. TheRoad Map helps them think concretely about the impact that going flextime willhave,” says Marcel.

    Employees can also get help from one of12 FWA specialists to write their business case and negotiate the terms.

    According to survey data gatheredthrough the FWA database, 84 percent of flextimers say the FWA program is theprimary reason they stay at E&Y. And thanks, at least in part, to theprogram, E&Y was named by Working Mother and Fortune as one of “The Best100 Companies to Work For” - one of only 16 companies to make both lists. 

Flextime scheduling reduces stress andovertime costs
   Hewlett Packard has offered employeesflextime options since the 1960s, says Kathy Burke, Global Worklife Programmanager for HP. “It’s part of the fabric and culture of Hewlett Packard.It’s in our DNA.”

    HP leaves flextime scheduling solutionslargely up to employees and their managers, under the assumption that they willdevise plans that best fit their needs. Schedules might include staggered starttimes, or working four 10-hour days or 80 hours in nine days. “Employeesredistribute their 40 hours in their own way. It’s between them and theirmanagers and work groups,” says Burke.

    She believes that giving employees thefreedom and power to create schedules that accommodate their work/life balanceissues makes them more productive. “HP employees face a lot of stress on thejob,” she says. “Giving them flextime options allows them to meet theirpersonal commitments while staying committed.”

    Jill Casner Lotto, vice president ofthe Work in America Institute, a national nonprofit organization based inScarsdale, New York, agrees. She researched Hewlett Packard’s program as partof a flextime policy report she authored, called “Holding a Job, Having aLife: Strategies for Change.”

    “Flextime is not just a company perkor a negotiation for time off,” she says. “It’s a strategic business toolthat improves productivity and quality of life for employees.”

    Casner Lotto cites a group of fieldtechnicians at HP whose own initiative to readjust their team schedule reducedstress and saved money. The technicians were required to meet customer requestswithin a two-hour turnaround time while operating on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-weekschedule, she says. “There were morale problems, people were leaving thedepartment, and overtime costs were breaking the budget.”

    To solve it, the team collaborativelyredesigned the work schedule. Some members volunteered to work 12-hour shiftsFriday through Sunday and a 4-hour shift on Monday, in exchange for reducingtheir workweek to three and a half days. The rest of the team worked five-dayweeks but got their weekends off.

    Overtime costs for that team dropped 36percent, says Casner Lotto, and they were able to accommodate growing customerneeds with the same staff while reducing the stress of a round-the-clock jobscenario. “It gave employees greater flexibility and predictability in theirwork hours, making it easier to arrange child care and transportation. It alsoprovided employees - many of them first-time job holders out of welfare-to-workprograms - with increased pay and training in business and teamdecision-making.” 

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ policy guidesemployees
    “A formal policy for tracking andguidance is essential for a flexible work arrangement,” says Ray Lewis,director of communications at PricewaterhouseCoopers and manager of the PWC AtHome program. “However, the policy has to be flexible, too.”

    PWC has a 28-page document on planningand implementing flexible work arrangements that includes approval guidelines,discussion tools, compensation adjustment information, types of plans,and tips from other flextimers at PWC.

    “It’s written with core successfactors in mind,” says Jennifer Duras, coordinator of flextime arrangements atPWC.

    The policy demands that employees takeresponsibility for their relationships, with both team members and clients, saysLewis. “The focus is on the client, not the individual. As long as all of theclient’s needs are served, we will consider whatever arrangement isappropriate.”

    Flextime options began informally, witharrangements for individual employees left up to department heads and workgroups, he says. When the At Home program was established two years ago, Lewisand others began monitoring flextimers and surveying employees about theirinterest in flex options. “There was an incredible amount of interest,” hesays. “But it became clear that we needed to put a framework around it.”

    A policy team drew input from acrossthe company through interviews and daily communications between flextimers andmanagers. The goal of the policy was to create some commonalties andstandards that were fair across the company to all employees.

    “Without the policy we would beedging toward chaos,” says Duras. “There are so many different points ofview. We needed to focus on the core of the business.”

    Now when employees are interested inflexible scheduling, there is a process to follow. They first read all of theguidelines, then go to their work teams to discuss whether and how it couldwork, says Lewis. Then they go back to the policy and complete a six-pageflex-work proposal that defines their plans to meet their responsibilities.“It helps them think through all of the issues involved so they go into itwith their eyes open,” he says.

    The policy also includes guidelines andquestions from managers and team members to help them determine whether flextimeis a good idea for their group and how to work with a flextimer. “That firstdecision for managers is critical,” says Duras. “Internally, we communicatesuccess stories and make sure everyone reads them. We encourage everyone to tryit.”

    Lewis estimates that 500 of the 45,000employees formally take advantage of the program and that nearly 75 percent takeadvantage informally on an occasional basis.

Workforce, February 2001, Vol80, No 2, pp. 39-42  SubscribeNow!

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