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As the world grows smaller, the costs of relocating from one job to the other decline. All it takes is a more appealing job offer for an employee to pack their bags and leave. And what’s worse getting that job offer has never been easier. Emerging social media platforms like LinkedIn have made the job search process a breeze for employees; one simple search, resume submission and you're done. If one does this long enough, a job offer is bound to present itself.
Employee turnover has never been higher, as global competition gains access to the human capital of smaller businesses - capital that they often work hard to develop. This has, in turn, has left small business owners to question their ability to manage expectations within a business.
The main reasons why employees leave their jobs are directly related to management. If the relationship between the employee and “the boss” is toxic than the engagement and commitment towards the company will be minimal. A good boss has the potential to increase employee retention to upwards 90% - which is around 20% higher than the industry averages.
However, the boss isn’t always the reason why employees decide to leave the company. A recent benefit that employees have been craving is workplace flexibility, more precisely the ability to work flexible schedules on a regular basis. This trend surfaced across media than large multination corporations, and it eventually made its way to small-scale businesses.
But can small businesses afford to provide flexible work schedules to their employees?
The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including industry, organizational culture and the type of work schedule that the business is looking to implement; Yes, there are different work schedules that are categorized as fixed and flexible.
In this blog post, you will understand the key differences between fixed and flexible work schedules, then we will review the benefits of workplace flexibility, and lastly, we will identify the various kinds of ways how businesses can add flexibility to their schedules.
From fixed to flexible schedules
Time is money, and it’s crucial to stay up to speed on how it is managed. A recent study by Unum has found that flexible work options are a benefit that is highly demanded by the modern workforce. However, the majority of today’s businesses continue to employ various types of fixed work schedules.
As such, understanding the trend towards work schedules, as well as the types that follow them could prove beneficial for any manager running a team of 2 or more people.
Bear in mind that the obvious full-time and part-time work schedules will not be discussed in this blog post - as we will assume that you already know what they are and how they are used.
Fixed work schedules
The work schedule that continues to persist across businesses is the standard schedule. We are all familiar with working a 9 to 5, 40-hour workweeks that start every Monday and go through to a Friday. This work schedule is an all-time classic, a fixed schedule that requires employees to work a set number of hours during specific days of the week.
As an employer, you are happy to have a fixed work schedule because of the degree of control that it provides. At the same time, as an employee, working regular hours makes planning daily activities easier; Wake up, eat, commute to work, work for 8 hours and you're done.
But, if this program is good, why are employees demanding more flexibility, i.e. working from home?
The 9 to 5 work schedule creates structure but lacks certain capabilities that are deemed essential in today’s market. For example, a fixed work schedule tends to be ineffective and limiting for employees who are physically or creatively engaged during the workday. A construction company operating under such a schedule will experience a decline in productivity during the last few hours of the workday. Similarly, a creative agency can experience loss in creativity as the workday, and even workweek approaches the end. Therefore, finding an alternative can be the missing piece that you have been looking in your business.
Other types of work schedules
Technological advancements have had a tremendous impact on how we operate our business. Apart from the traditional 9 to 5 schedule, a number of companies have started toying with alternative work schedules that stand far apart from the usual. Some of the most popular non-traditional work schedules are flextime, compressed workweek, and on-call. Each of these work schedules has its own advantages and disadvantages, and they are applied based on company type and employee preferences.
Flextime: The “You do you” approach
Flextime is one of the flexible work schedule types that gives employees complete autonomy on how time is allocated during the day. As long as the employees fulfill the 40-hour workweek, the distribution of that time is determined by the employee. For example, one company may ask its employees to work from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM for the first three days of the week, and then allow the employee to self-manage the remaining 25 work hours.
Compressed: Work Hard Play Hard
A compressed workweek is another popular alternative. During this working schedule, employees are expected to sacrifice their break for a complete day off at the end of the week. It is rather common to have an employee come up to you and ask if he/she can work during their break in order to leave an hour earlier at the end of the day. Based on this concept, the compressed schedule can be a great option for businesses whose employees need to travel long distances.
A few examples of compressed work schedules are the
- 4/40 work schedule
- 9/80 work schedule
- 12-hour shift schedule under a 3-week cycle
- 5-4/9 schedule
Yes, there are multiple types of compressed work schedules; However, not every schedule may be suitable for your business. If the work of your business involves daily deadlines than compressing the work schedule may put more pressure on your employees, deferring rather than increasing productivity.
On-call: Only when needed
Just like doctors show up for emergencies on-call basis, employees can also follow this schedule when they are needed. Businesses can outsource or hire agents that work only when they are needed. For example, a call agent that manages all of your customer service efforts can once in a while get sick, or have an emergency that may have them miss a work-day. In these cases, another employee with similar skill-sets may jump in to replace the missing co-worker.
But, who will then take care of the tasks of the substituting employee?
A substituting methodology may not always be the best solution. Although cost-effective, the impact of having an employee complete two tasks at the same time may deter their quality of work - which is poorly reflected in their performance report. As one employee from “Ask a Manager” writes:
It seems like a no-brainer that I need to surface this to my boss or to my colleague’s boss, and it’s stupid that I haven’t done it yet. I’m just at war with myself over how to do this, and feel like a complete toad/tattletale, even though I know that it’s the right thing to do.
An on-call schedule can be seen as a safety net that calls upon a competent individual to replace an employee temporarily while they are “offline”, be that a day, week, or even month.
DIY: Free from PTO
A more relaxed, yet fast-growing work schedule is called the “Do-It-Yourself (DIY)” alternative. This schedule is freeform, as it detaches the employees from traditional vacation/ PTO policies. The benefit of knowing that employees can take long vacations without having to worry about their tracked work hours is what has made this type of work schedule gain popularity over the past years.
In a DIY schedule, some businesses can allow their employees to allocate all of their vacation days, including holidays, to their liking, while others may choose an unlimited vacation policy.
The fellows at Kronos Incorporated are one of the many success stories that have implemented an unlimited vacation policy across their global headquarters. As described in many of the CEO’s presentations:
"We started this policy in January 2016, and in calendar 2016, we had the best year we ever had. Our engagement went to levels it had never reached before."
And believe us, four years later this work schedule is still in place at Kronos. However, an unlimited vacation policy should be taken with a grain of salt. As good as it sounds on paper, it carries the potential to backfire for the business if leadership fails to set an example. This work schedule requires extensive training for management. Training will equip them with the necessary skills to manage certain situations that may arise from this work schedule.
- How does a manager deal with an employee who is misusing this policy?
- To what extent can managers utilize the vacation?
- Who evaluates how management uses the vacation policy?
The benefits and drawbacks of flexible work schedules
The first argument that management tries to pull off when evaluating flexible work schedules is based on the assumption that flexibility benefits the employee rather than the company. However, this assumption is based on a single perspective that leaves out other important perspectives or factors.
Yes, employees do benefit from the added control that they have but - if implemented correctly - businesses will enjoy the caviar of benefits, as employees demonstrate increased productivity, reduction of stress, improved health and trust. Nonetheless, flexibility can easily be taken advantage of and misused; Thus, drawbacks are an important factor to consider when deciding whether to implement such a work strategy.
Accordingly, some of the main advantages/benefits of workplace flexibility can be split into those dedicated to employees and employers.
For employees, the benefits include:
- Flexibility to manage time better (i.e. meet family, fulfill personal needs)
- Reduce commuting expenses (i.e working from home)
- Added control over how time allocation (i.e. the possibility of DIY schedules)
For employers, the benefits are indirect and they can take different forms, for example:
- Improved motivation and focus during work hours
- Reduced tardiness and absenteeism
- Increase employee retention
- Improve the quality of goods and services delivered
At the same time, both parties could face drawbacks from the implementation of flexible work schedules. These drawbacks will depend on the industry and type of work that the business conducts on a daily basis.
The drawbacks for employees are"
- Change management difficulties
- Working from remote locations can be distracting and ineffective
- No fine-line between life and work
Similarly, businesses face their own share of drawbacks:
- Lack of professional supervision can reduce the efficiency
- Clients will be impacted by reduced availability
Regardless of the benefits or drawbacks associated with flexible work schedules, businesses will have to understand that the trend is heading in that direction. If not today, employees will eventually demand it and if management fails to address these needs than the competition will snatch the talent right away. Employee turnover is a huge problem for businesses and any effort that reduced should be considered carefully by managers across industries.
When a business manages to successfully meet the needs of employees than that business will see noticeable developments in the employee’s happiness and motivation - two factors that are directly associated with productivity.