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Flextime is Functional, Not Flawless

Professional work is increasingly flexible, but not without its downsides

It’s essentially the dream scenario for an employee who typically works a 9-to-5 shift: When necessary, just work whatever hours are best for you.

Need to take a morning off for a dental appointment or leave early one day for a parent-teacher conference? No problem. Take those hours off and make them up elsewhere in the week. As long as you get your hours in, everyone’s happy. Right?

Perhaps. It’s obvious why employees would enjoy the benefits of flex scheduling, also known as flextime. Depending on the rules where you work, you might be able to change up your schedule on a week-to-week basis. If you make up the hours, you won’t need to dip into valuable paid time off (PTO) hours — vacation time, sick time, etc.

The advantages of flex scheduling are plainly evident, so it’s not surprising the option has been growing in popularity. Some job seekers consider it as important as a health care plan or a retirement account in considering an employer.

But while it’s true that flextime provides obvious benefits, it creates its own type of problems — not just for employers, but sometimes for employees as well.

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Possible issues include the added burden of scheduling and day-to-day supervision for managers, employee concerns about equal treatment, and the possible stigma employees face of using a flexible schedule.

Sarah Stasik was a manager for a mail-order diabetic supply company in Salem, Virginia, for four years. Stasik’s department had a generous flextime policy during her tenure.

“Many of my most reliable and productive employees were single parents, and they wouldn’t have been able to meet that (performance) level without flexible schedules, I don’t think,” Stasik told LifeZette. “As a manager, the biggest advantage was that I could offer my staff a fairly valuable perk that didn’t actually cost anything in the budget.”

Stasik said she also could use flextime, and that was beneficial when her son was playing recreational baseball. Overall, she considered the flex scheduling policy to be a positive.

But the policy also created issues, she said. Communication suffered, because various employees were unable to attend meetings due to the varied shifts. When the company had an important announcement or needed feedback on a critical matter, it was impossible to get the word out simultaneously.

Work-life balance is increasingly difficult today
Work-life balance is increasingly difficult today.

Managing a team that worked varied schedules was challenging at times, Stasik said: “Without robust work scheduling software and a full-time person to manage that process, managing staff on flexible scheduling requires a lot of work from managers and supervisors.”

Flex scheduling also could make it hard to treat employees equally, she said. Two different employees could miss work for doctors’ appointments, for example, and slight differences in how they handled it could determine whether it counted as flextime.

“The line there was very gray, and it was difficult to keep everyone on the same page with what was and wasn’t considered an issue,” Stasik said.

Regardless, flex scheduling definitely isn’t going away. Work-life balance is a top priority for young people entering the workforce, Stefany Bullard told LifeZette.

Bullard received her MBA from the University of Denver in November, and she extensively researched flex scheduling policies for an academic paper.

She said millennials like her do not necessarily view a job the way previous generations did, where achieving a satisfying personal life was a far lower priority than career advancement. Work-life balance isn’t a goal for them; it’s a requirement.

Without flextime and alternative work options such as telecommuting, Bullard said, “It’s very easy to get burned out.” Flextime gives workers the chance to “relax and recharge,” helping them stay committed. That’s good for employers, she said, because they don’t have to replace and train staff so often.

However, Bullard said, making flex scheduling work well requires a full investment from management, starting at the top: “It has to be managed really well, and the managers have to not only implement it but use it themselves.”

Flex work schedules are here to stay
Flex work schedules are here to stay.

If flexible schedules are not broadly adopted throughout the company, she said, employees might be reluctant to ask for flexible schedules, concerned it will appear that they’re getting special treatment.

On a related note, there’s the question of whether redefining the standard workday is turning work into something that’s always going on, even at home. Standard work schedules might be limiting, but for the most part, they provide a clear delineation between when you’re on the clock and off.

Modern technology makes it easy to work from home, and smartphones let workers stay contacted by email, text or group chat at any time. If you spend most of the time returning emails on your phone, are you really “watching” your daughter’s soccer game?

Flex scheduling is here to stay, and many workers — especially millennials — wouldn’t want it any other way. But to avoid problems, it requires excellent management, widespread adoption and a commitment to treat workers equally. Otherwise, it can create as many problems as it solves.

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