Flexible Schedules for Hourly Workers Becoming More Prevalent

By Stephen Miller Jul 24, 2009

The number of nonexempt, hourly workers in the United States using flexible scheduling benefits such as teleworking is larger than expected, a new study by WorldatWork, an association of total rewards professionals, and the Work Design Collaborative, a research and advisory firm, indicates.

The study, Flexible Work Arrangements for Nonexempt Employees, conducted in the first half of 2009, found that a surprisingly high number of U.S. companies are allowing nonexempt employees to telework despite traditional limitations such as work hour and safety requirements.

“There has been a significant body of best practices, policies and procedures developed concerning flexible work for salaried or exempt employees, but far less for hourly or nonexempt employees,” says Ryan Johnson, a WorldatWork vice president and telework expert. “This study indicates that including nonexempt employees in flexible work programs is becoming more of an imperative for employers. Planning, training, and changes to performance evaluation systems are the keys to success.”

Among the key findings of the WorldatWork/Work Design Collaborative survey:

  1. Nonexempt employees participate in flexible work programs to a much larger extent than researchers had expected. Among survey respondents, 45 percent report they include nonexempt employees in those programs. Based on previous occupational survey data, the researchers expected to find only about 15 percent allowing nonexempt participation.
    Nonexempt employees operate within a more restrictive and prescriptive set of rules and regulations—and, therefore, liabilities and exposures—for employers that choose to provide alternative work designs and flexible management options. Moreover, nonexempts historically have been managed based on time accounting, and there are specific legal and regulatory requirements imbedded in that management system.

  2. The three biggest industrial sectors allowing nonexempts to telework are manufacturing, education and business services, each at about 12 percent of the total industries represented. Manufacturing came as a surprise, as it has been dominated traditionally by nonexempt employees working on-site.

  3. The use of technology to stay connected was prevalent among nonexempt distributed workers:
    • 73 percent reported using instant messaging.
    • 63 percent use call forwarding and web conferencing.
    • 33 percent use video conferencing.

  4. Employers are providing (or allowing) telework in an ad hoc manner.
    • 44 percent do not have a formal selection process in place to determine eligibility.
    • 39 percent do not use formal employer-employee contracts regarding flexible work arrangements.
    • 44 percent do not evaluate technology effectiveness.

“The participation of nonexempt employees in flexible work programs is much higher than expected but not as well-organized and orderly as is required by employment law,” comments Charlie Grantham, managing director of Work Design Collaborative. “As flexible programs grow in both scale and scope, policy development in this area will become a critical human resource management issue.”

Many legal issues, he added, can be handled within the context of training programs designed for employees and managers and by formal employee work agreements.

The original data supporting the study was derived from an online survey of U.S. employers and interviews conducted by telephone. Nearly 50 percent of survey respondents had more than 1,000 employees.

Flexibility Improves Satisfaction/Engagement, SHRM Finds

Although organizations in the United States are not required to offer flexible work arrangements (FWAs), findings from a June 2009 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report, Workplace Flexibility in the 21st Century: Meeting the Needs of the Changing Workforce, show that formal FWAs have a positive impact on employees and employers:

  • The quality of employees’ personal/family life is affected positively as a result of implementing FWAs, according to two-thirds of HR professionals SHRM polled (68 percent).
  • 91 percent of HR professionals believe implementation of formal FWAs had a positive impact on employee morale (job satisfaction and engagement).
  • Retention of employees (89 percent) was also reported to have been affected positively by the implementation of FWAs.

In addition, companies with formal FWAs have seen increased productivity rates of telecommuters at their organizations and a drop in absenteeism.

The most common obstacle organizations experienced with formal FWAs, SHRM found, is suitability of the job for flexible work (i.e., the type of work performed by an employee). Also, one in three (36 percent) HR professionals cited business needs as a constraint to FWAs (publicly owned for-profit organizations were more likely to experience this obstacle than nonprofit organizations).

A Trend with Momentum

Compared with previous years, 37 percent of organizations indicated an increase in the requests for FWAs by employees. A majority of HR professionals (85 percent) reported that in the next five years, telecommuting would likely be more commonplace for organizations in general than it is today. And 43 percent of HR professionals believed that in the next five years, a larger proportion of the workforce at theirorganization will be telecommuting.

Stephen Miller
is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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