Flexible Work Arrangements

Flextime is a plan whereby employees’ workdays are built around a core of mid day hours, such as 11.00 am to 2.00 pm. Workers determine their own starting and stopping hours. For example, they may opt to work from 7.00am to 3.00pm or from 11.00am to 7.00 pm. The number of employees in formal flextime programs from 4% of operators to 17% of executive employees doesn’t tell the whole story. Many more employees, about 46%, actually take advantage of informal flexible work schedules.

In practice, most employers give employees only limited freedom regarding the hours they work. Most hold fairly close to the traditional 9.00am to 5.00pm workday. For example, in about half the firms, employees can’t start work later than 9.00 am and employees in about 40% of the firms must be in 10.00 am. Therefore, the effect of flextime for most employees is to give them about hour of leeway before 9.00am or after 5.00pm. About half of all firms offered flexible hours options.

Compressed Workweeks: Many employees, like airline pilots, do not work conventional five-day, 40-hour workweeks. It would hardly do, for instance, for the pilot on a 12-hour flight to have to clock out midway across the Atlantic. Similarly, hospitals may want doctors and nurses to provide continuing care to a patient, or manufacturers may want to reduce the productivity lost whenever workers change shifts.

Non-conventional (compressed) workweeks come in many flavors. Some firms have four-day work weeks, with four 10-hour days. Others have employees work two days on, two days off, three days on, then two days off, two days on, and so forth. Some workers in hospital for instance work three 12-hour shifts, and then are off for the next four days. About half of 500 employers in one recent survey said they now use 12-hours shifts for many of their employees.

Effectiveness of Flextime and Compressed Workweek Programs:

How effective are flextime and compressed workweek programs? One review suggests the following. Flexible work schedules do have positive effects on employee productivity, job satisfaction, satisfaction with work schedule, and employee absenteeism; the positive effect on absenteeism was much greater than on productivity. Compressed workweeks positively affected job satisfaction and satisfaction with work schedule; absenteeism did not increase, and productivity was not positively affected. Highly flexible programs were actually less flexible ones.

Some experts argue that longer, 12-hour shifts may increase fatigue, and therefore accidents. However, one report suggests 12-hour shifts can actually be safer, in some respect. For example, the “general workplace confusion” that often occurs during shift change is reduced with 12-hour shifts, since there are fewer shift changes. To further reduce potential detrimental side effects, a Texas DuPont plant provides portable treadmills and exercise bikes that shift workers can use to get their “blood pumping.” A south Texas power plant installed a special “light box” that mimics daytime sun by providing intense, full spectrum light.

Other Flexible Work Arrangements:

Employers are taking other steps to accommodate employees’ scheduling needs. Job sharing allows two or more people to share a single full-time job. For example, two people may share a 40-hour-per-week job, with one working mornings and the other working afternoons. About 22% of the firms questioned in one survey indicated that they allow job sharing. These include Gannett newspapers and PepsiCo, which has offered it for more than 20 years. Work sharing refers to a temporary reduction in work hours by a group of employees during economic downturns as a way to prevent layoffs. Thus, 400 employees may all agree to work and get paid for only 35 hours per week , to avoid a lay-off of 30 workers.

Telecommuting is another option. Here employees work at home, usually with computers, and use phones and the Internet to transmit letters, data, and completed work to the home office. For example, Best Western Hotels in Phoenix used the residents of the Arizona Center for Women, a minimum-security prison, as a telecommuting office staff, and Dell has call centers in India.

Daniel Briddle, owner of Mesa Arizona- based PC information Technology Services, proves that you don’t have to be a hermit to telecommute. He spends about 80% of his work time interacting continuously with customers from his home office and spends the rest of the time doing on-site tech support for his small Web-hosting service.

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