Flexing work-hour muscle produces stronger companies
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Jenny C. McCune is a contributing
editor based in Montana.
-- Updated: Aug. 16, 2002