Workplace flexibility has come of age. Today, flexible work schedules allow workers to decide the time, duration and location of work. Flex time allows workers to decide when they will work; flex space allows workers to decide where they will work.
Different kinds of flex time have emerged over the years. Perhaps the most well-known has been job sharing, where two workers each work half time, but their combined time is equivalent to one full-time employee. In other scenarios, employees can work four 10-hour days and have three consecutive days off. Yet another flex schedule is telecommuting where an employee works at home all the time or works part-time at home and part-time at the office. There’s also the extended or compressed lunch period with appropriate time added or deducted at the start or end of the day.
Another kind of flex time allows workers to avoid commuter hour, by shifting the start and end times – working 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. These kinds of flexible schedules can help parents with children in school or in daycare.
In a 2004, University of Vermont study done by Daniel Kahneman, et al., of a sample of a thousand employed women, commuting was “associated with increased blood pressure, musculoskeletal problems, lower frustration tolerance, and higher levels of anxiety and hostility.” The study also said commuting “can cause …increased lateness and missed work and worsened cognitive performance.” In an article for Psychology Today, Marlynn Wei, M.D., J.D., cited that “commuting times have steadily increased in the U.S., and the rising problem of congestion has only exacerbated the issue of wasting time, money and fuel.”
In July 2015, the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. hired independent research firm ORC International to conduct a national study of full-time workers. Work-life flexibility was defined as “having the flexibility in when, where and how you work. It allows you to flexibly allocate time and energy between your work life and your personal life.”
The 2015 study found that 96 to 98 percent of full-time U.S. workers had some kind of workplace flexibility. One-third of those U.S. workers did a majority of their work from a remote location, not on their employer’s site. ORC found that 44 percent of workers used “formal” flexibility – an arrangement with an employer or supervisor to work a nontraditional schedule or at a location other than the employer’s office; 61 percent used informal flexibility – occasional changes in schedule or work location other than the employer’s office.
Karen Fogg, director of Human Resources and Operations at Boly:Welch, a Portland-based staffing agency, said the greatest benefits of Flex time are retaining employee talent and lowering burnout. She said that several people at Boly:Welch work a flex time schedule – one employee works a four-day week and then attends to a family business one day a week.
Fogg described her personal experience with flex time when she started at Boly:Welch ten years ago. At that time, she and her husband had started a family, and she was looking for a solution to daycare three days a week. The company founders told her, “Just change your hours around, and work three 10-hour days.” So she did that. Once Fogg’s children started kindergarten, she went to five days a week – she’s able to drop the kids at school, and also leave in time every day to pick them up or she can work at home.
Heidrick said that a lot of companies are looking at flex time in two ways: formally sitting down with employees to decide on a schedule, and informally – the employees know what is required to get their job done, so they set their own schedule to do that. Heidrick said it’s about building a positive culture or having high turnover. The benefits – attracting and retaining good employees – will reduce the costs of turnover, since “turnover generally costs two times as much as their annual pay in the first year, plus you’re losing efficiency.”
When asked what jobs work best with flex time, Heidrick said “mostly intellectual work,” where there isn’t specific heavy equipment that is needed to do the work, as there is in manufacturing. He said there are also difficulties with flex time in retail work and direct customer service. Heidrick believes flex time “can be used as a key element in the culture to attract and retain employees.”
Working Families Flexibility Act
Recently, Washington State U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Camas) voted for a different kind of flex time, a bill called the “Working Families Flexibility Act,” supporting “comp time.” This legislation would allow employees in the private sector who exceed a 40-hour work week to make a choice between paid time off or overtime pay, with both options counted at the rate of time and a half.
When asked about the new legislature, Heidrick said he was glad to hear about the bill.
“It’s a long time in coming,” he said. “Many large businesses have been allowing comp time for a long time, so the new legislation deals with an inequity in the system.”
Some of the stipulations of the Working Families Flexibility Act:
The legislation retains all existing employee protections in current law, and adds additional safeguards to ensure workers remain in control of their overtime compensation.
Neither the method for calculating overtime, nor the employee’s right to receive cash wages for overtime, are altered.
Compensatory time off accrues at the same rate as overtime, 1.5 hours for each hour of overtime worked.
Employees could accrue up to 160 hours of compensatory time each year. An employer would be required to pay cash wages for any unused, accrued time at the end of the year.
“Unlike even 25 years ago when a family could get by with one bread winner,” said Herrera Beutler, “nowadays most families have to have both parents working. This family-oriented legislation I helped pass is one way we can modernize the workplace to allow working parents to schedule doctor appointments, attend a child’s recital or tend to an aging parent. This bill is particularly well-crafted because it protects workers’ rights and their ability to choose overtime pay – the flex time option is totally voluntary.
The Congresswoman added, “There aren’t a lot of moms of young children in Congress, so there is definitely a role for me to help tackle the challenges working parents are facing today. The president and his daughter Ivanka seem genuinely interested in making the workplace meet the needs of today’s families, and I’m ready to work on common sense, bipartisan solutions. It’s critical we avoid overburdening small businesses that simply don’t have the same resources as larger corporations, so I’m interested in exploring incentives for businesses to take part, rather than onerous mandates or taxes. I think we’ll see workplace flexibility for families become a bigger part of the conversation in Congress.”
Having passed the House, the bill is now in the hands of the Senate.
Meanwhile, Boly:Welch’s Karen Fogg said she thinks that flex time and telecommuting are the wave of the future.
“It’s a trend that will be more acceptable and commonplace in the next decade,” she said.
Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group, a flexible workplace consultant, commented, “Flexibility is already happening. The question isn’t should we offer it [flexibility]. The question is, how do we optimize it, leverage it to help workers get their jobs done well and productively, manage their lives, and yet also run the business?” She said, “It’s not optional, it’s what you’re going to do with it (flex time) now.”