From the President

By Susan Meisinger Apr 1, 2007

Flexible Schedules Make Powerful ‘Perks’

Advances in technology make it more practical than ever to work at different times and places than the traditional 9-to-5 at the office. It’s no longer necessary—and, often impractical—for employees to be at their desks eight-plus hours every day. Today, many employers are finding that allowing their workers greater flexibility in work schedules can enhance recruiting and retention efforts, improve morale, and increase productivity.

Organizations that offer flexible working arrangements are, and will continue to be, employers of choice. They will be in prime position to address the projected talent shortage caused by the baby boomers’ retirement wave and the limited supply of skilled workers. Employees consistently rank flexible schedules high on their list of desired benefits; employers who are reluctant to offer these popular perks will find themselves falling short in the bidding wars for talent.

An increasing number of organizations offer employees nontraditional scheduling options, but the practice is by no means widespread. In the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2006 Benefits Survey Report, 51 percent of human resource professionals indicated that their organizations offered some form of telecommuting. Slightly more than one-third of HR professionals (35 percent) said their organizations offered compressed workweeks. Eighteen percent of survey respondents reported that their organizations offered job-sharing, where two employees shared the responsibilities, accountability and compensation of one full-time job. Thirteen percent reported offering phased retirement programs (a reduced schedule and/or responsibilities prior to full retirement), which offers older workers a way to ease into retirement while passing along institutional knowledge to others.

The survey results indicate that more organizations should examine the advantages of alternative scheduling; many employers report reaping a variety of benefits from such programs. Among the pluses: increased employee retention, loyalty and morale; higher productivity; improved recruiting of highly qualified workers; decreased employee tardiness and unscheduled absences; and maximum use of facilities and equipment.

There are also potential drawbacks. Some organizations have experienced challenges with implementing programs that work for both the company and employees; maintaining communication between the organization and its employees, as well as among employees who work in teams; and handling employee relations issues (e.g., training, work monitoring and performance evaluation). And changing the attitudes of managers that are uncomfortable with anything other than the traditional eight-hours-a-day, face-to-face .arrangement may present an altogether different challenge.

Will alternative work arrangements work for every organization? It depends. But given today’s and tomorrow’s workforce challenges, HR professionals who seriously evaluate and effectively implement these programs can make an important contribution to the success of their organizations.


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