Flex time continues its popularity among small businesses. It grows out of a recognition that adhering to a traditional work schedule approach may not actually increase productivity, but instead could lead to employees making work-related mistakes, and even result in stress and burnout.
What does flex time refer to, and is this a policy that your business should implement?
Flex time refers to flexibility in employee work schedules. Technological advances — including the widespread use of mobile devices, cloud computing, and other digital advances — no longer require a physical presence in the workplace for some positions. Flex schedules can come in different forms, including:
- Compressed workweek (e.g., four longer days for full-time compensation)
- Flexibility in terms of start and end work times
- Some hours worked onsite with others worked from a different location such as the employee's home
- Job-sharing, where two employees share responsibility for one position (e.g., one employee works in the morning, and the other works later in the day)
According to the 2018 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, U.S. companies continue to offer nontraditional benefits to help attract and retain employees in a tightening labor market. Flexible scheduling remains the top non-traditional benefit, year-over-year. For many employers, a flexible option is seen as positively impacting recruitment and retention efforts. For example, it could make your business more attractive to job candidates for whom an inflexible work schedule is a "non-starter." Establishing a flexible work policy may also contribute to:
- Reduced rates of absenteeism
- Higher levels of employee engagement
- Enhanced work/life balance for your workforce
Just as importantly, notes Paychex HR consultant Chris Jankus, "Flexible schedule policies can help promote an environment of trust between a manager and employee, as opposed to management managing to an employee's work schedule. Employees enjoy having autonomy in how they do their work when given the freedom to work a flexible schedule."
Pros and cons of flex time
A quick look at perceived advantages and disadvantages of flexible time schedules may help you decide whether this approach makes sense for your business.
- Employees may ask for or expect a flexible time option. Many employees, particularly millennials, have come to expect that a company offers a flexible work schedule. If job candidates don't see this included as part of an open job description, they may be inclined to move on in their job search. It's also become a key resource for retaining a company's most talented workers. Employees generally view the flexible time option positively, and see it as a sign of management's respect and trust.
- It's a boon to productivity. Most people have a peak time of productivity in a workday. When a flexible time schedule centers around that peak time, employees can become more energized and productive, rather than attempting to maintain that peak level throughout an eight-hour day.
- Scheduling can be a potential hassle. Attempting to juggle different flex schedules can be an operational headache. This task may take up a large amount of valuable time to manage.
- Meetings may not always include key employees. Technology easily permits off-site/remote employees to participate in workplace meetings. But if they're not scheduled to work at the time the meetings take place, employees could miss out altogether, regardless of their location. Organizing other types of group events (presentations, team-building sessions) can also present scheduling issues.
- Continuity could be negatively affected. In a flexible work arrangement where two employees share the same job duties, continuity could be disrupted. If one individual initiates a work project and the second individual sees it to completion, there's a risk of inconsistencies and delays as both job sharers coordinate their efforts.
How to implement a flexible schedule
If you're ready to establish a flex schedule policy, consider these elements carefully:
- How would a new policy fit with your existing company culture?
- Which positions are most amenable to a change in scheduling?
- Which positions should remain as they are, such as a customer-facing position where maintaining specific hours is necessary?
It's also important to define the goals you hope to achieve, be they enhanced employee morale, greater round-the-clock productivity, or a reduction in workplace-related expenses. Establishing this at the onset can help you configure the most appropriate policy for your company.
If you're thinking about a flexible time option, consider taking the following actions:
- Offer a "use or it lose it" vacation time program, where permitted by state law, rather than allowing employees to carry unused days over from one year to the next.
- Ask employees to submit a written description of how a flexible work schedule will achieve the same objectives as their current schedule.
- Consider offering flexible schedules on a trial basis so you can assess the impact before committing to long-term changes.
Additionally, make sure you:
Communicate your proposed changes. Carefully outline your expectations to employees so that the rules are clear. Invest in up-to-date time tracking software so that employee hours can be closely monitored, and everyone remains accountable for the jobs they've been hired to do. For many small businesses, offering flexible scheduling options may be an effective way to boost productivity and generate long-term loyalty in the organization.
Require active HR involvement. HR professionals can help the organization adapt to the changes that come with having a flexible time policy. An employee who works traditional hours every day may resent employees who are allotted a flex time schedule, while a manager who's short-staffed may view the organization's flexible work-hour arrangement as a hindrance to productivity. In such cases, your HR team can interact with potentially disgruntled team members, including management, and outline how the new flexible schedule policy can actually benefit the organization and enhance productivity.
Formalize flexible time policies in your employee handbook. The HR team can also be instrumental in drafting what goes into your employee handbook regarding flexible time policies. Key points may include:
- A certain period of full-time employment being required before a flexible work schedule may be considered.
- Approval of flexible time requests will be made on an individual basis.
- Possible flexible work schedules must be discussed with an employee's manager before a formal request is considered.
- HR and related managers reserve the right to deny flexible time requests if a department (and the company) would be adversely affected.
Arrange for a trial period. Prior to company-wide implementation, consider having a trial period wherein one department, or select group of employees, undertakes flexible work schedules. Determine metrics to keep in mind when measuring how well the program works, specifically with respect to completion of projects, quality of customer service, and overall employee morale. If all goes well, the flexible time policy can be considered for expansion throughout the organization.
"Having flexible time policies will not alleviate managers of their responsibilities to verify and ensure employees' continued performance and development," Jankus notes. "Implementing a continuous performance management procedure — that is, providing ongoing feedback in real time and having coaching conversations regularly with employees — can create a more positive and agile work environment."
Scrutinize the effects of a change in work policy by measuring any changes in customer satisfaction, any delays in project completion, the impact on employee turnover and operating expenses. Compiling this data can indicate whether a flexible time policy is helping you achieve your goals.
Flexible time isn't necessarily the answer for every small business. But as it becomes more important to your pool of current and potential employees, it's worth examining your HR policies to see where a change is possible that may benefit both your business and your employees.