The University Record, April 12, 1999
By Jane R. Elgass
Clearly spelled out ground rules about eligibility and expectations, documentation of the agreement reached between employee and supervisor, and regular communication are critical to the successful use of flexible scheduling of any type, panelists at a program on "Managing Flexible Work Schedules" said last week.
Flexibility in scheduling is a plus in today's tough hiring environment and also is a perk that can help retain valued employees.
That flexibility can take many forms, including hours worked per day, worksite location, job sharing, a compressed work week or a reduced appointment, according to Leslie de Pietro, coordinator of the Family Care Resources Program and moderator of the panel presentation sponsored by her office and the Center for the Education of Women (CEW).
Also participating in the program were Wendy Powell, personnel representative, Human Resources/Affirmative Action; Susan Schleuderberg, Information Technology Division (ITD) telecommuting coordinator; Susan Kaufmann, CEW associate director; and Julie Peterson, director, News and Information Services (NIS).
de Pietro noted that while many organizations say they offer flexible work options, those options generally are available only to higher-paid employees, because many of the positions held by lower-paid employees are perceived as not easily lending themselves to flexible scheduling.
de Pietro encouraged managers to take a look at those positions with an eye to the responsibilities of the positions. With a bit of shifting, she said, some may lend themselves to a job-sharing situation or some other form of flexibility.
Peterson, who has a number of staff members observing some sort of flexible schedule in terms of hours or worksite location, noted that NIS at one time was able to give flexibility to its receptionist position, which also carried responsibilities for photo archiving and scheduling the photographer. The need to be at a busy front desk all day left the receptionist little time for the photo duties. Staff suggested a noon-8 p.m. workday, using the quiet time of 5-8 p.m. for the photography work. Another support person in the office found her position boring and was eager to cover the front desk in the morning.
The flexible environment at NIS grew out of a 1995 remodeling project when staff were forced out of the building while asbestos tiles were removed. Some worked at home, others found temporary campus locations. While some discovered they didn't enjoy working at home, others pressed for the option to continue doing so. And reluctant managers found staff members to be more responsible than they thought would be the case.
Peterson emphasized that core values were established at the outset of the program-there would be no decline in customer service and the scheduling issues would be invisible to customers.
Kaufmann said that 13 of CEW's 19 permanent professional staff members employ some sort of work flexibility, with benefits to the organization including more flexibility in salary budgets and an extension of office hours on Monday evenings.
Kaufmann detailed the unit's positive experience in filling a counseling position after being approached by two candidates who proposed sharing the job. The approach worked, Kaufmann explained, because the two were able to divide the work into discrete pieces, maintained communication with each other, and had a pre-defined period of overlap so both could attend staff meetings.
CEW realized savings on benefits with this arrangement as both individuals initially were appointed at 40 percent each. Benefits costs, about 30 percent on top of salary, automatically kick in at 50 percent appointments.
Schleuderberg briefed the audience on ITD's continuing telecommuting pilot project, originally slated for a six-month run beginning in February 1998.
ITD has developed detailed guidelines that must be adhered to by those interested in telecommuting, including giving up personal U-M office space. Participants, who must have worked at ITD for at least one year, are required to undergo training prior to working off site.
Twelve individuals initially participated in the project, all of them in ITD's technologist job category. Fifteen individuals are now telecommuting, ranging from 40 percent to 100 percent of their time.
ITD, Schleuderberg said, feels the program has provided several organizational benefits, including enhanced employee retention, increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and reduced office space cost.
Details on the ITD program are available on the Web at www.itd.umich.edu/telecommuting/report/.
Powell reminded supervisors that there are employment regulations that must be considered when considering flexible work schedules and encouraged audience members to contact their personnel representatives before starting a flex program.
Considerations include Fair Labor Standards Act issues related to overtime pay for exempt and non-exempt employees, benefits implications, holiday pay for exempt and non-exempt employees, and union considerations, as some collective bargaining agreements have specific scheduling arrangements.
Di Pietro maintains sample agreements for most flexible work arrangements. She can be reached at 2072 Administrative Services, 1009 Greene St. 1432; 936-8469, or via e-mail to email@example.com.
There are a number of flexible work schedule options: