Flexible Work Schedules
Alternative work schedules are rising in the workplace with more companies allowing flexible schedules for a better work-life balance for employees. Flexible work week options like flextime, compressed work weeks, and staggered shifts lessen traffic congestion dramatically, reduce stress for commuters, and improve air quality for everyone.
- Flextime—Employees work specified hours each week but are given flexibility on when they arrive to work, take lunch, and leave work. A set schedule of core hours when all employees must be present is usually established. Credit hours may also be used so that extra hours in one day, week, or pay period may be used to take off on a future day without loss of pay.
- Compressed work weeks—Employees work more hours daily than typical but work fewer days per week or pay period. Examples are 4/40 and 9/80 schedules. In 4/40 schedules, employees work four-day weeks but 10-hour days to get 40 hours. 9/80 schedules are similar where employees work eight 9-hour days and one 8-hour day, receiving the 10th day off.
- Staggered shifts—Employees arrive and depart work at different times in shifts. Shifts may be staggered anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours.
Flexible Work is not only a sustainable way to work, it also has many benefits including:
Flexible Work/Life Balance
Improve Air Quality
Better Employee Morale/Retention
Frequently Asked Questions
Employers have their work cut out for them in setting up flexible work programs since these programs work best with established guidelines. Many employees are sensitive—and rightly so—about who works when and how much and with what supervision. With clear policies in place and clear communication with employees, employers reduce conflicts and have a more successful program. Some challenges to consider include developing policies and procedures, diluting opportunities for ride sharing due to different schedules, making sure work duties are “covered” when needed, and monitoring employees who participate.
The steps needed to create a flexible work program are detailed below and include forming a team, deciding overall strategies, choosing strategies, selecting types of participants, developing policies, examining other considerations, supporting sustainable commuting, and cost vs. savings.
Most Commute Solutions strategies require input from various people or departments. But for alternative work arrangements, the input is crucial. A lengthy and complicated list of labor laws that vary from state to state make it important for the employer’s legal department or attorney to be involved and review policies before finalizing them. Additionally, human resources staff will be implementing many of the changes, and therefore, should be involved from the beginning. They also have more expertise in developing personnel policies.
The first step is to establish objectives for the alternative work schedule program. Is it intended to promote other Commute Solutions strategies like carpooling and vanpooling? Is the work site suffering from too many employees arriving and departing at the same time? Or are employees simply requesting more flexibility? Once the employer establishes objectives, the team can begin to examine which strategies or combination of strategies will work best, and which job responsibilities are suitable for the programs.
All strategies have defining characteristics that the team should plan for and address.
- Coverage - the time that certain employees need to be present and working, such as answering phones or making sure reception areas are covered during specific hours. Additional customer service personnel might also be needed during peak hours.
- Work Requirement - the number of hours or amount of work that must be accomplished each day or week.
- Work Hours - an employer’s hours of operation. Remember that extending work time to accommodate flexible schedules also can increase operating costs related to lighting, heating/cooling, security, etc. However, flexible schedules allow for longer coverage due to the staggered schedules.
- Choice - the decision on which positions and individual employees will be able to participate, at what level of participation, and whether the participation is the choice of the employee or management.
- Accountability - making sure that employees follow schedules and/or work requirements. With different employees on different schedules, it may be hard to monitor who is doing what and if that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. Time cards, logs or other systems can be used. However, employee performance and monitoring tasks and productivity are often the best measures for accountability.
- Core Hours - most employers require a core period, a time in which all employees must be present.
- Gliding Schedule - employees are allowed to pick their starting time each day, and the departure time is simply based on when they have fulfilled the required amount of work hours. A typical gliding schedule would allow employees to arrive anywhere from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. each day, then leave from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
- Flexitour - employees can pick their starting time each day, but that time is chosen for a mandatory period of time (perhaps six months or a year, coinciding with other changes in other benefit plans).
- Maxiflex - the ultimate in flexibility, employees can essentially work any hours they want within a 24-hour period. Additional hours in that period over their required work time often can be banked to shorten future workdays or weeks.
- Credit Hours - for systems that allow banking of hours, or if overtime is reached, credit hours can be given that allow for reduced work time in the future.
- Compressed Work Weeks - compressed schedules can be structured in a variety of ways, but they usually fall into the following categories.
- The 4/40 System - employees work four 10-hour days and take the fifth day off.
- The 9/80 System - employees work eight nine-hour days and one eight-hour day with the tenth day off.
- The 3/36 System - three 12-hour days with two days off either in between or following. (Four hours are given as a reward for working the long, extended days.)
- Days Off - usually compressed work week participant days off are divided, with half taking Monday and half taking Friday, although any variation can be used to meet the needs of employers. However, employers should not feel that days off should be limited to Monday and Friday only.
Once an employer understands which strategies will be beneficial and feasible, it is time to start defining which positions are suited for alternative work schedules and which positions might be eligible. The selection ultimately will help define who gets to participate in what type of program.
For example, a combination of flextime and compressed work weeks may work for an accounting department that handles ongoing payable and receivable functions. However, a call center with customer service representatives may only be able to work compressed work weeks with alternating days off for participating employees. Extended customer service hours would be a benefit of flextime that extends the working hours, although flextime might also deplete the number of needed representatives at certain times.
Once the objectives are matched with the proper strategies, and the proper strategies with the job descriptions, the team can develop written policies. The policies may be detailed and rigid, or flexible to fit the needs of different departments or managers. The key is to have a written policy because arbitrary or inconsistent policies lead to disputes.
When developing policies, be sure to cover the characteristics (work requirements, work hours, coverage, etc.) and the specific attributes for each type of strategy, as well as other typical considerations (See below).
- Part-time vs. Full-time Work - How work requirements, hours and other characteristics may differ for part-time and full-time workers.
- Holidays - Policies for how holidays are handled need to be taken into consideration. Some government agencies have rules defining exactly what hours can be “missed” because of holidays, which may affect those who have extended work days.
- Cross Training and Rotating Participants - Some employees that appear ineligible may be able to participate if the employer cross-trains co-workers to provide coverage. Different employees can rotate to help cover for needed duties.
- Pilots and Trial Periods - The team can encourage managers who are unsure of starting alternative work schedules to try a pilot with a limited number of employees. Additionally, employees considering such programs may want to have a trial period of a couple weeks to see if the new schedule works for them and their manager.
- Allowing for Special Considerations - Mandatory programs for compressed work weeks and staggered shifts can create problems for some employees who have schedules to accommodate for ridesharing, children, medical needs, relatives, etc. If the employee didn’t sign on with the employer under the arrangement, it may be unfair to impose it on them, and special consideration may be needed to allow them to continue their existing schedule.
Both flextime and compressed work weeks can offer benefits for promoting other Commute Solutions options. Flextime particularly helps transit and bicycling/walking, since a flexible schedule can accommodate additional time needed to get to work. Compressed schedules may let Commute Solutions participants run errands in their cars on their days off.
Flextime may hinder carpooling and vanpooling. For example, an open or maxi flextime lets vanpoolers and carpoolers pick schedules that accommodate their pools. But a set flextime (core time) outside that schedule might not. If an employer sets a flextime schedule of starting from 6:30-8:30 a.m., that won’t help someone who wants to vanpool with a group from another area employer that arrives at 9 a.m.
Similarly, compressed work weeks also can create a problem for rideshare, since they extend the working hours. So a group of carpooling employees on a compressed 4/40 week may not leave until 6 p.m., leaving the worker without a compressed work week unable to meet that schedule.
The problems usually occur at larger companies when different managers set different requirements for who can participate in flextime and compressed work weeks and what the rules are for core hours or arrival/departure times.
The employer may consider a separate survey of department heads to gauge rules and procedures if they differ throughout the work site. At that point, the team can strategize on how to best coordinate different ride matching attempts and may even be able to standardize policies in some situations.
Finally, using alternative work arrangement perks as benefits can leverage Commute Solutions options. For example, if compressed work week participants are required to divide into two camps for days off (most likely Mondays and Fridays), Commute Solutions participants would get the first choice on which day to take off.
See the Cost Savings Calculator on this site to find out how much money employees can save with alternative work schedules (mainly reduced trips from compressed work weeks). For the employer, compressed work weeks–if structured properly–also can result in significant savings from reduced parking needs.
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