Understand flexible work arrangements

By Susan Seitel, president of Work & Family Connection

Considering proposing a flexible work arrangement to your employer?

When you make your proposal to management, you'll want to cover several points, most of which will address benefits, as well as barriers, for the company and how you'll handle them. For example, how will you ensure that your new schedule won't be disruptive to workflow? What sort of additional support or equipment might you need to make your new arrangement work? How will the arrangement make you more valuable to the company than you are now?

But, before you begin answering these questions, you first need to understand the type of work arrangement options that are available — and which one will best suit your needs, as well as that of your employer.

Get to know your work arrangement options

When employers talk about flexible work arrangements, they usually mean one of the following:

  • Flextime
  • Job sharing
  • Job splitting (work redesign)
  • Telecommuting
  • Compressed workweeks
  • Voluntary reduced workload (part-time work)
  • Daily or informal flexibility

Here's what these terms mean to most companies.

Flextime

allows employees to work with their managers to set starting and quitting times. Some workers arrive at work late and leave late; others arrive early and leave early. Manager and employee agree on the schedule, which revolves around a set of core hours when the majority of employees are at work.

The result: Parents can be home in time to meet the school bus, workers can take a late afternoon course, and volunteers can keep their commitments. For the company, flextime can often mean better coverage, and it's a no-cost way to improve employee morale. Flextime can also resolve scheduling conflicts and sharply reduce lateness and absenteeism.

Job sharing

divides the responsibilities of a full-time position between two part-time people. For this arrangement to work, the two employees must have close communication and share a spirit of cooperation. Each job sharer often works a three-day week, spending a day together during midweek to catch up and make the transition seamless.

Job sharing gives managers an opportunity to keep people who would otherwise not be able to work. Having "two for the price of one" can mean more productivity and better coverage, as job sharers can often cover for each other during vacations or personal emergencies. The arrangement can also help the company recruit and retain skilled workers.

Job splitting

, or work redesign, redesigns the tasks in a job so that it fits staff and business needs. For instance, tasks that can be done in isolation are assigned to a telecommuter, and duplicate tasks are eliminated. One full-time job may become appropriate for two part timers. Two employees may split a job, but they may work independently of each other.

By looking at the tasks of a job in a new way, employees can better fit their skills to the tasks to be performed. Job splitting may eliminate duplicate work, permit better use of employees' skills, and enable more flexibility and more effective work distribution. It also attracts and retains high-quality employees by making employees' lives more livable while the company achieves its business goals.

Telecommuting

allows eligible employees to perform some of their work at home or at an alternative work location. Telecommuting may be done part-time or full-time, but it is usually done part-time.

Telecommuting enables a company to hire those with disabilities who otherwise could not work, widens the geographic pool of workers, and allows employees to better handle their personal commitments. It often reduces occupancy and real estate expenses, and it nearly always improves productivity as a result of fewer distractions. Grateful employees are generally more committed — that is, more likely to go the extra mile.

Compressed workweeks

condense full-time hours into fewer than five business days or two workweeks. For instance, "four 10s" are four 10-hour days worked in a week. Or an employee might want to work 80 hours over a two-week period in nine days (five 9-hour days for one week and four 8.75-hour days for the next, with one day off).

A compressed workweek may improve coverage and allow space and equipment to be used more efficiently. When this option is used voluntarily, it has been shown to improve morale, reduce stress, and make employees more satisfied with both their work and personal lives.

Voluntary reduced workload

, or part-time work, allows employees to cut back both workload and hours either temporarily or regularly. This option allows new mothers to return to work gradually and retirees to phase out gradually. It can enable employees to complete their education or handle temporary emergencies.

Having the part-time option is proven to attract and retain talented employees who want to work a reduced schedule, and it widens the pool of potential employees. At least one study has shown part-time workers to be nearly as productive as their full-time colleagues.

Daily or informal flexibility

means generally having control over your schedule. Managers focus on results or output rather than the hours an employee works. Employee, manager, and colleagues work together to ensure coverage and decide how the work will be completed, with customers and performance always coming first.

At least one study has found that daily flexibility has the most potential for increasing employee satisfaction and retention. Daily flexibility creates a more considerate and respectful atmosphere, helps each employee work to full potential, retains high-quality employees, and enhances employee satisfaction.

See it from your employer's perspective

Once you're ready to propose a flexible work arrangement to your employer, you'll want to be prepared to answer a range of questions, from how you'll maintain communication to what backup plan you'd propose for days when you're not available and when someone — customer, colleague, support staff, or manager — needs something fast. Creating a thorough proposal takes time. Knowing which type of flexible work arrangement will best serve both your needs and your company's is an important first step to creating it.

About the author     Susan Seitel, president of Work & Family Connection, is one of the nation's leading pioneers in the field of work/life balance. A founding board member of the Alliance for Work-Life Progress, she has been helping companies, organizations, and governments transform their culture since 1984. She writes the publications Work and Family Newsbrief, the Trend Report, and the Manager's Quarterly, and has written several special reports and publications. Susan most recently published The Eleven Essential Steps to Designing a Successful Work-Life Program.

 
 
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