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Adopt a Formal Flextime Policy

Employment law attorney Robert P. Tinnin, Jr., answers an HR practitioner’s question about improving a flextime program that has become unmanageable.

Q: I’m the HR director for a sales organization. We regularly accommodate employees with different work schedules. Over the years, when coverage and other factors have permitted, I’ve allowed employees to vary their work schedules to be more convenient to their personal schedules. The practice is becoming confusing and causing conflict among employees, though, particularly newer workers who can’t have the schedule they want. Can you suggest how I might better handle flextime?

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A: You would be well advised to make sure that flextime follows a formalized policy, not an ad hoc approach, to prevent just the sort of problems you’ve already encountered.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Flextime
Flextime is an employee benefit that can improve your bottom line. Smaller businesses may use flextime as an operational strategy to remain competitive. Larger companies may enact flextime to improve employee morale and to reduce costs. Either way, employees receive an added benefit without the employer raising salaries.

Flextime programs have been shown to increase the efficiency and productivity of workers. For businesses involving customer service, employers can provide a broader range of service hours by having some employees start earlier and others work later. Studies have shown that flextime can be credited with reduced absenteeism, reduced stress, and fewer employees dealing with personal errands during business hours.

But there are disadvantages to flextime as well. Many managers are uncomfortable or unable to effectively manage a flextime workforce. They find it difficult or too time-consuming to keep track of employees on flextime and coordinate schedules and workloads. Some managers may still believe that if they can’t see an employee at work, he must not be working. This can be a particular issue with employees who telecommute unless you have measurable work standards related to time worked. Furthermore, employees who are unable to adopt flextime schedules may become disgruntled. Employee morale and workplace camaraderie may suffer from employees not regularly seeing one another.

Recent lawsuits against businesses for alleged flextime abuse have involved workers who were misclassified as exempt from overtime. There are also instances in which workers were injured at home while performing company business on a flextime schedule.

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Implementing Flextime
As with most changes in existing policies or adoption of new policies, a deliberate, staged approach is best. Initial implementation may include a trial period:

  • Decide whether flextime is viable for your business by analyzing the costs and benefits of the flextime program. If it’s viable, evaluate the type of flextime plan best suited for your business.
  • Determine which positions are most conducive to flextime, and document the reasons so employees in other positions understand the rationale.
  • Review any written flextime policies already in place and all current employment contracts. Use caution when reviewing policies and benefits involving maternity, paternity, and adoption leave.
  • After going through this preliminary analysis, propose a plan to employees for both their feedback and their buy-in.
  • Adapt the plan based on employee input as appropriate, and implement it for a trial period. Make sure employees know that it is a trial policy.

At the end of the trial period, you will be in a better position to fine-tune the program and decide whether to continue flextime.

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Bottom Line
When implementing flextime, you must be careful to treat everyone fairly. If you decide to continue the program after its initial trial period, we suggest that you formulate formal policies to avoid inconsistencies. Communicate frequently with flextime employees and train the supervisors who will be managing flextime employees on techniques for monitoring and communicating flexible work schedules. Finally, review and update flextime arrangements and document your changes and your reasoning for them.

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