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Flexing work-hour muscle produces stronger companies

How honest are your employees?Letting employees pick when they work is small businesses' blessing.

"Bigger companies can pay their people more and offer more benefits and perks," says Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group in Greensboro, N.C. "Smaller companies can be competitive by offering flexible work schedules."

Flextime, as these variable work-time programs are known, can give your company a happier, more productive staff. It's also a great way to recruit and retain workers.

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Such work arrangements are an advantage because with unemployment rates still relatively low, businesses have to fight for good workers, Gioia notes.

"Employers darn well better pay attention to what employees want," she says. "Employees, even with the current economy, are still in the driver's seat."

And a flexible work schedule, particularly those where an employee can start work earlier or stay later than the usual 9-to-5, can benefit your company, too.

"It's the easiest and simplest way to expand your work hours," according to Anne M. Pauker, president of the Pauker Consulting Group, a human resource consulting group in Princeton Junction, N.J.

Adaptable flextime
Almost any company can offer flexible work schedules to their employees, say both Gioia and Pauker. And flextime can take various forms:

  • Permitting employees to work a 40-hour week in fewer days, such as four 10-hour days.
  • Letting workers put in fewer hours each day, but work more days.
  • Having employees work a regular seven-day shift, but change their hours. For example, some people work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. while others come in at 10 a.m. and work until 6 p.m.

To institute such a program, first determine the level of employee interest.

"It's basically listening to your employees," says Linda Marks, a principal with Rupert & Company, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting company that specializes in flexible work arrangements and how companies can better recruit and retain employees.

Involve your employees early
If there's interest, ask employees who want flextime to take on the task of developing a program, Marks suggests.

This includes figuring out what form flextime will take, who will be eligible for the program, how people will apply for flextime and how it will be administered. Once your workers come up with a draft, you as the employer will need to go over the plan and fine-tune it.

"You have to also think about how much flexibility you want to offer people," Pauker says.

Flexible-time programs can really vary from those that are totally self-monitored -- employees choose the hours they work and come and go as they please as long as they get their work done -- to more rigid programs that offer different, pre-formatted work schedules. Ask yourself which type of program is right for you, your management style, and your company and the type of business it's in.

A business plan for flextime
In terms of getting a program together, Marks recommends that companies have an application form for employees. In it, employees make the case for flextime.

"It's basically like a business plan in which the worker explains why they want the different schedule and why it makes sense for them and their employer," Marks says. The application also spells out both the employer and employee's responsibilities and how the flextime arrangement will work.

This avoids what Pauker terms the most common mistake that companies make when instituting flextime: insufficient communication.

"The biggest mistake they make is not communicating what they really mean by flextime," says Pauker. "They'll mention all the benefits and why it's such a wonderful thing, but they won't be clear about expectations and how the program will work."

And before your small company launches the program, review it with your managers. Flextime will only work if managers are willing to relinquish direct supervision of staff.

"If you have managers that are really caught up in eyeballing employees," says Marks, "you have to teach them to let go before you institute the program."

Monitoring the program
After your company's flextime program is up and running, take time to reassess and adjust the program. How often the program should be reviewed depends largely on your business, your employees, how quickly change occurs in your industry, and how well the program is working.

The idea behind the review is to make sure it is being carried out as it was designed and that it is meeting its goals.

"Never make the mistake of assuming that what is working now will work in the future," says Gioia. "You need to establish a feedback loop and keep on listening."

In addition to flextime, your company may want to examine companion scheduling and work programs such as telecommuting (permitting employees to work from home or remote location) or job sharing.

The goal of flextime, telecommuting and job sharing? Being a limber employer that can respond to employees needs and wants in order to become an employer of choice.

"This is another way in which the smaller employer can compete against larger ones," Gioia says.

Or more simply put, a happy work force generally translates into happier customers. That should make the small-business owner happy, too.

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.

-- Updated: Aug. 16, 2002


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See Also
Flexible hours create productive workers
Flextime, creative benefits lures good employees
10 tips on managing telecommuters
More business operations stories


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