The University Record, April 9, 1996

Communication, teamwork keys to making flextime work

Perhaps your elderly parent needs assistance taking medication every day at 4 p.m. Or your child's daycare facility doesn't open until 7:30 a.m., and you have an hour-long commute. Or your spouse works nights and you never get to see one another. Or you just can't complete all your necessary errands during the hours when most business establishments are open.

There are many reasons why employees are interested in more flexible work arrangements and those reasons seem to be growing more abundant.

Leslie de Pietro, coordinator of the U-M's Family Care Resources Program, detailed several types of flexible workplace options at a recent campus work shop:

 

The benefits of creating a flexible workplace are many, said de Pietroand they don't just accrue to the employees. Employers also have a great deal to gain from allowing employees to have more flexibility.

A flexible workplace can reduce employee stress, improve morale, and increase employee loyalty to the organization, which may then be better able to recruit and retain competent staff members. In addition, varied schedules may allow the organization to provide extended hours of service. Productivity may increase when employees are allowed to work at off-peak times with fewer interruptions.

Flexible scheduling also can allow for more efficient use of limited office equipment as well as parking and office space. Furthermore, said de Pietro, there may be environmental benefits for commuters who drive to the office less frequently or who arrive and leave at times other than rush hour, shortening travel time.

However, said de Pietro, "flexibility requires behavior changes on the part of managers, employees and systems." She noted that "it feels to many managers like they're giving up control." Concerns also can include maintaining good customer service, communication, potential for abuse, and the possibility of employee fatigue.

Employees, she said, must realize that flexibility has to be a two-way street. "Flexibility is a privilege, not a 'right.' There has to be some reciprocal flexibility on the part of employees such as a willingness to come in for meetings, to check in with supervisors and to document hours worked."

A "flextime team" formed within the Business School to research and implement flexible scheduling reported that "flextime offers a number of challenges to the School community. It is a pervasive change that empowers employees in a fundamental way. It requires greater trust between employees and their supervisors. It means that workers will make decisions without referring to a supervisor and that supervisors will trust workers to be productive and make good decisions without direct oversight."

Fran Shadley, a member of the Business School's flextime team, has some advice for campus units considering more flexible schedules for staff members: "Don't reinvent the wheel." Her team spent months conducting research on flex time, and all of it is available on the WorldWide Web http://www.umich.edu/~nickh/smallwin.html. Materials include summaries of background literature, results of a pilot program and surveys conducte d by the Business School, and even a "flextime implementation kit" with sample schedules and forms.

The team found that communication both with supervisors and among fellow employees is crucial to the success of flexible scheduling. In addition, flexible scheduling works best when staff members function as a team, negotiating schedule changes with one another and participating in cross-training so that colleagues are available to cover for each other when needed.

De Pietro recommends that employees who are interested in pursuing flexible scheduling or other work options approach their supervisors, either individually or together, with a well-thought-out proposal. In the proposal, stress how the changes you are seeking can benefit your organization. Be sure to answer such questions as: How will the work be accomplished when you are unavailable? Will there be extra costs involved? Will customers be inconvenienced or better served? Will your work group be supportive of your request and have you addressed their concerns?

Present any such proposals as a pilot, with a defined period (such as six months) after which you and your supervisor will meet to reevaluate how well the new arrangements are working.

Printed guidelines for presenting a proposal are available from de Pietro via e-mail at ldpietro@umich.edu or by calling 998-6133.