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Making Flexible Schedules Work for Your Business

Feb05
A flexible work schedule is invaluable for recruiting and retaining top talent.

Star performers know that time can be infinitely more valuable than money, which is why they’re attracted to organizations that offer wiggle room in terms of working hours.

Not to mention, studies show a strong correlation between flexible schedules and employee health. According to one report, self-scheduling, shift interventions, and employee-controlled early retirement were found to positively affect blood pressure, systolic heart rate, tiredness, mental health, sleep duration, sleep quality and alertness.

Understanding the Research

When it comes to the relationship between flexible schedules and employee performance, the findings are split. Some researchers have found a strong correlation between flexible schedules and enhanced productivity, while others state the opposite. But according to researchers at the Sloan Center for Aging and Work at Boston College, the reasons for the disparity are clear:

“Even when flexible work arrangements are available, employees may not feel free to use them.”

The Sloan Center points out that successful flex-time policies have yielded clear and compelling benefits:

  • Marriott found a clear connection between workplace flexibility and greater productivity, even though employees worked fewer hours.
  • JP Morgan Chase found that 95 percent of employees working in an environment that is sensitive to work and personal life — including informal flexibility — feel motivated to succeed.
  • Data from a 1996 IBM study revealed that given the same workload, individuals who believed they had more workplace flexibility were able to work longer hours before feeling a negative impact on work/family balance.

The key to a successful flex-time policy is proper implementation. Official documents and HR presentations are only half the equation — your organization can build a flexible, yet performance-driven culture by taking the following steps:

1. Treat Everybody Equally

If an organization has a flex-time policy, it should be implemented for everyone — regardless of seniority or years at the company. Oftentimes, organizations will leave flex-time to “the discretion of an employee’s manager,” which can create a potentially hostile environment. If one manager says “no” when three say “yes,” there’s a strong chance that employees will cry favoritism – with good reason. The key to implementing a successful policy around flexible schedules is to ensure that everyone is playing by the same rules.

2. Provide Positive Reinforcement

Employees may feel uncomfortable taking flex-time, even when there is an official policy that protects them. Tradition is to blame for this sentiment — historically, requests for flexibility have come with a stigma that marks employees as “distracted” or “lazy.”

“Lots of managers think that if you’re not sitting in a cubicle near their office, you’re goofing off,” wrote Laura Weiss for Forbes. “Or, if you work fewer hours, it must mean you’re less dedicated.”

It’s up to an organization’s managers to defeat that stigma by praising employees for great work and even encouraging them to work from home. The more employees hear it, the more comfortable they’ll feel setting their own schedules.

3. Create the Right Infrastructure

Flexible schedules need the right pieces of technology to work. What’s important is that employees can feel like they’re always connected, no matter where they are in the world. Inter-office chat programs like Microsoft Lync, virtual private networks (VPNs), video conferencing software, project management tools like Basecamp and Asana and other unified communication services can help keep team members on the same page. Having the right technology is crucial for maintaining strong communication across the team.

Your Thoughts

Have flexible schedules worked for you or your organization? Managers and employees alike are welcome to share what they’ve learned. Spark discussion by leaving a comment below.