The following are the slide notes from a presentation I did regarding alternative work schedules.
What is this?
When we talk about alternative work schedules, what are we really referring to? There are four main categories of alternative work schedules — flexitime schedules, compressed work weeks, part-time work, and job sharing. The first two options do not change how many hours an employee works during a week. Flexitime schedules allow employees to shift the start and end times of their work day, but leave the number of hours worked each day the same. Compressed work weeks crunch the work hours down into less days. Typically, this means crunching five eight hour days into four ten hour days (Lingard, Townsend, Bradley, and Brown, 2008).
Part-time work and job sharing are strategies that use more workers to do the same amount of work. These strategies focus on giving more time off. As these strategies require a shift in the work force, we do not consider them in today’s discussion.
Let’s look at why we might want to consider introducing alternative work schedules into an organization. As a company we want to reduce costs and improve productivity. We know that keeping our top-performing employees motivated and happy is a key to achieve those goals (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2013). To do that, we’re going to focus on two things: career management and stress.
Career management, or career development, is one of the pillars of employee retention. Once again, keeping top performers on-board requires more than just adequate pay. These employees must be kept on track and feel that their careers are moving forward (Noe et al., 2013).
Traditional work schedules developed at a time when households typically had a single income and the non-working spouse was responsible for child-rearing and taking care of the home. Contemporary households no longer operate in that fashion. The modern household often has two incomes and child-rearing responsibilities are split equally between parents. It is no longer reasonable to expect an employee to make a career decision without taking the entire household into account (George & Jones, 2008). Is important here to take note that retaining the modern employee means providing career progression that does not profoundly impact the employee’s household. In other words, if the only opportunity for advancement requires an employee to move to Antarctica, that employee’s career is likely to continue with another organization.
Everyone has to deal with stress, right? If that’s the case, why should we care?
Stress affects different people in different ways. It can lead to health problems such as insomnia or illness. It can have psychological effects such as negative attitudes or burnout. Finally, stress can affect employee behavior. This can manifest itself as under performance or even workplace violence.
One source of stress for employees is the modern household. Balancing the competing interests of work, life, and parenting can be an overwhelming task. Although employees must learn to balance their own lives, the company can institute changes that make this possible (George & Jones, 2008).
One thing the company can do to help employees continue on their career paths and manage their stress is…
Alternative Work Schedules: Pros
Studies have shown that flexitime schedules and compressed work weeks have a positive impact on productivity and job satisfaction. Similarly, they lead to the reduction of absenteeism (Lingard, et al., 2008). All of these are related to achieving a work-life balance in the hectic modern household. Reducing stress and providing career opportunities with reasonable work-life expectations is a key to to both productivity and job satisfaction. In fact, studies have shown that improved work-life balance through the use of these methods has led to an improvement in overall employee happiness (Golden, Henly, & Lambert, 2013).
I would like to take a moment here to note that these are the three big positives when considering introducing alternative work schedules. That being said, the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General (n.d.) lists nearly a dozen benefits in their guide to implementing workplace flexibility.
Alternative Work Schedules: Cons
Alternative work schedules can introduce the risk of gaps in coverage. Small teams are especially exposed to this risk. Even if a schedule is generated such that all necessary times are covered, there is a risk than an absent employee, regardless of whether the absence is legitimate or not, creates a gap in coverage that other employees will have to cover for. Covering these gaps may be difficult if employees are not trained in the job functions of absentees (Lankford, 1998).
When trying to implement a compressed work week at HP, it was found that employees who did not take advantage of the plan harbored some resentment for those that did. This resulted in decreased morale for those not taking part in the plan. It was found that those employees did not take into account that both groups were working the same number of hours. Their main concern was the additional stress caused during periods when there was less coverage (Lankford, 1998).
In certain industries like construction, alternative work schedules can result in a reduction of hours for wage employees. Outdoor work that requires natural light is especially susceptible to this problem. A construction site in Australia found that when their compressed work week resulted in a reduction of hours for wage employees, a large number of those employees left for a competing job that offered more hours (Lingard, et al., 2008). Obviously, this is special circumstance that does not affect all industries or even all employees within affected industries.
Implementing alternative work schedules into an existing organization requires the involvement of management in more than just “get this done” level of involvement. Managers need to explain why the plan is being implemented and what goals they hope to achieve. Additionally, timelines are important so that employees understand that this is a trial period and may be changed if goals are not met. Finally, managers should seek constant feedback to ensure the plan is being adopted and to address any issues that might arise.
To address possible coverage gaps and morale problems, two options should be investigate. The first is to invest in cross-training existing employees. Part of the stress felt during coverage gaps is the employee’s inability to perform functions he has has not been trained for. This makes the reduced coverage more painful and increases stress, a primary motivator for implementing alternative work schedules. Cross-training is a long term project and should not be rushed.
Finally, if coverage gaps can not be adequately cross-trained, the organization should investigate adding more staff. Although this runs counter to current organizational trends (lean operations, downsizing), the cost of replacing employees can be prohibitive. It might be possible to add contingent workers as needed. In that case, business processes must be streamlined to allow contingent workers to fill in adequately (Lankford, 1998).
George, J., & Jones, G. (2008). Understanding and Managing Organizational Behavior (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Golden, L., Henly, J., & Lambert, S. (2013). Work schedule flexibility: A contributor to happiness? Journal of Social Research & Policy, 4(2), 107-135.
Lankford, W. (1998). Changing schedules: A case for alternative work schedules. Career Development International, 3(4), 161-163.
Lingard, H., Townsend, K., Bradley, L., & Brown, K. (2008). Alternative work schedule interventions in the Australian construction industry: a comparative case study analysis. Construction Management & Economics, 26(10), 1101-1112. doi:10.1080/01446190802389402
Noe, R., Hollenbeck, J., Gerhart, B. & Wright, P. (2013). Human Resource Management: Gaining a Competitive Advantage (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General. (n.d.). Making flexibility work: A practical guide on implementing flexible work arrangements for managers [PDF document].