The University Record, April 9, 1996

Business School flexible scheduling pilot shows results

By Julie Peterson
News and Information Services

Increased employee loyalty, improved morale and better customer service seem to be the results of an ongoing pilot of flexible scheduling within the Business School.

The one-year, School-wide pilot was started in the fall after months of research and a "mini-pilot" last spring within two units of the School. The Business School, which has documented its research and results on the WorldWide Web so that other units can have easy access to its findings, has been the most aggressive campus unit in pursuing flexible scheduling options for its staff, according to Leslie de Pietro, coordinator of the U-M's Family Care Resources Program.

In response to a 1993 staff satisfaction survey, the School's Quality Council made up of deans and department chairs formed a number of "small-win" teams in spring of 1994, including one whose mission was to explore alternatives to tradi tional work schedules and facilitate the adoption of flextime within the School. Team members included Marilyn Daigle, Lori Franz, Sandy Grabczynski, Nick Hadwick, Jill Morrison, Brenda Ostrowski and Fran Shadley. President James J. Duderstadt's commitm ent to a flexible workplace as part of the Michigan Agenda for Women also served as an impetus.

"Two-income households are now the norm, time is a valuable commodity, and working adults are feeling a great deal of stress trying to find a balance between work and family. Flexible work schedules may be the answer in helping to find this balance," team members wrote in a report to the Quality Council. "The challenge is to give employees the flexibility they need while keeping or enhancing customer service."

According to the survey, conducted by Jane Dutton, 96 percent of Business School staff are in two-income house holds, and 71 percent of employees identified work-family stress as an important issue.

The team conducted extensive research by scouring the literature on flextime and talking to other organizations that had adopted flexible scheduling. After a presentation early in 1995 to the Quality Council, a preliminary pilot program was begun in the Kresge Business Administration Library and in Executive Education. The team surveyed staff members in those units before and after the pilot, and also conducted focus groups.

More than half of the staff members in the two units chose to adjust their schedules from the traditional Monday­Fri day, 8 a.m.­5 p.m. work days, according to team member Lori Franz. Such adjustments could include a compressed work week of fewer but longer days, an expanded work week of more but shorter days, time shifting within a day, and day shifting within a week.

The pilot was "extremely successful," according to the team's report.

One of the surprises, said Franz, was the degree to which morale increased among staff in the pilot units. "It gave staff the feeling that the Business School cared about them, and recognized the fact that people have outside lives," she said.

In addition, many of the concerns that supervisors and others voiced in advance, such as fears that offices wouldn't have enough desk coverage or that employees would take advantage of the situation, turned out to be unwarranted.

"Once staff started trying it and communicating with their supervisors, a lot of those issues melted away," said Franz. "People said, 'Look, if you're going to trust me to be responsible for my schedule, I'm going to live up to tha t. I'm not going to blow it because I want to keep the schedule that I was able to choose."

Team member Fran Shadley also found noteworthy the number of staff members who were willing to negotiate with their colleagues to "get their duck s in order" before approaching their supervisors.

"You will always find supervisors who are reluctant," Shadley said. "Part of our charge as a team was to deal with that issue. One of the advantages we had was the extensive research we had done."

Employees surveyed following the pilot noted that schedule alterations had allowed for better customer service by extending the number of hours staff could answer the phone and assist with projects. Others pointed to the ability to concentrate an d get more work done during off-peak times. "I am definitely more productive," said one survey respondent. "I work less overtime and make better use of my time."

The most difficult issues to work out were those surrounding the Standard Practice Guide (SPG) and Fair Labor Standards Act requirements (FLSA), according to the team's reports. For example, "non-exempt" employees (those subject to FLSA rules) are not allowed to work more than 40 hours per week without receiving overtime pay. The team also grappled with issues such as how to handle holiday pay.

The School's flextime team is scheduled to present a follow-up report to the Quality Council in July at the end of the current pilot.

The team's complete reports, along with bibliographies of reference materials, are available on the WorldWide Web at http://www.umich.edu/~nickh/smallwin.html.