Workers want to have more flexibility

With many workplaces in the thick of summer vacations, the issue of “how to get the work done” is top of mind for most employers.

WINNIPEG — With many workplaces in the thick of summer vacations, the issue of “how to get the work done” is top of mind for most employers.

At the same time, we know that work/life conflict for employees is also a big issue.

Many feel they are doing more than one job (and some are) and many employees are struggling with stress from overwork.

They need their vacation time. Yet while vacation scheduling is a hot topic during the summer, the answer to ensuring full staffing complements isn’t just about summer; it’s about developing a year-round strategy and solution.

This is where instituting flexible work arrangements can help. In fact, more and more workers are seeking flexibility and work/life balance as one of the key elements of their decision to take a new job. And, since those baby boomers are watching the retirement clock, flexible work arrangements might just be a strategy for retaining some of this talent in your organization.

Studies are showing that instituting flexible work arrangements has many benefits.

These include increasing employee morale, reducing absenteeism and reducing the cost of worker leaves, be it vacation, maternity or involuntary termination.

It also helps with recruitment as flexible work arrangements are an attractive benefit for many employees.

There are several types of workplace flexibility.

These include part-time work schedules, job sharing, compressed work weeks, shift work, telecommuting and general flex time.

There is no one set of schedules that is suitable to every organization or business. Therefore, one of the first tasks an organization must undertake is to conduct a self-analysis to determine whether workplace flexibility could work and what type of flexible scheduling would best suit the needs.

Second, one of the challenges of implementing a flexible work program is to ensure it meets the interest and needs of the employee. Therefore, an employee survey should be undertaken so that any new programs can be moulded to satisfy identified needs.

General flex time appears to be the most common approach and is suitable to any size of organization.

General flex time simply means that an employee can personally control their start and stop times as long as they work a standard number of core hours within a specified period. This is often used by employees who have children as it gives them the flexibility to work around children’s school hours.

Instituting a flexible work schedule is not without its challenges.

First of all, no doubt, the organization will experience resistance to the new change.

This will occur particularly if your organization has been rather traditional; in other words, supervisors who have always had control of when employees worked will have some difficulty making the transition to the new way of working.

As well, retaining the sense of teamwork will become somewhat more difficult as team members will have different work schedules requiring an increased need for good communication.

The following guidelines will assist you to implement a flexible work schedule more effectively.

l Develop clear policies: Be sure your policies and procedures are clear. Determine if the opportunity will be company-wide or limited to specific departments or if flex time is limited only to summer work hours. Ensure that the program can be instituted consistently and equitably and that vacation/sick leave, etc., are properly accounted for. Include time limits for your core hours. Overall, ensure clear directions on implementation, continuation, evaluation, discontinuation, and modification.

l Educate management: Expect some resistance from your supervisors as flex time requires more work and co-ordination. Ensure everyone understands the benefits and value to both the employer and employee. Work out any procedural challenges such as developing an application and evaluation process to ensure a smooth implementation.

l Educate employees: Hold meetings with staff to discuss the concept, respond to questions and get input into procedures and scheduling approaches. Ensure employees are fully aware of the application or proposal process and the nature of responsibility they are undertaking. Create a how-to handbook so that employees have access to information at all times.

l Start with a pilot project: Treat the flexible work arrangement as an experiment and start with a pilot project. During this time, gather data so that you can evaluate its effectiveness. Examine issues such as absenteeism, turnover, overtime and service levels.

l Implement a proposal approach: Each flexible arrangement should begin by requiring employees to complete a proposal. The proposal should outline a business case for the new work arrangement, the benefits to the individual and the organization, the proposed work schedule, a description of how work will be accomplished and how co-worker needs will be managed. As well, the proposal must contain a description on how communications will be handled.

l Ensure fair and equitable evaluation: The supervisors’ role is to ensure there is adequate staffing at all times and therefore some arrangements may have to be terminated as business needs change or performance issues arise. Stay focused on the organizational benefits and determine if the proposal makes sense. If the proposal is not accepted, suggest alternatives, and if it is denied, be sure to communicate the rationale clearly.

l Institute formal agreements: A flexible work arrangement is essentially a contract between the employee and employer on how work will get done and when. It requires a strong sense of personal responsibility and it must be treated as such. Develop an agreement form and have both the employee and the supervisor sign it.

l Build in a review: A flexible work arrangement is also a partnership and one that will need continual review and adjustments. That adage that nothing ever works the way it was supposed to is often the case. Therefore, ensure that a general review is conducted on an annual basis and that any changes are formally recognized.

While summer has been slow in coming, requests for vacation will be quickly drifting in. If you are facing challenges in ensuring a full complement of staffing, take time to examine the potential of flex time during the summer months and/or during the entire year as a solution to the problem.

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