HR News & Trends, News

85% of Companies Offer Flex Time, But Does it Really Mean They’re Flexible?

Flex work1

Do you feel like you’ve got more flexibility at work?

A recent report from virtual and executive office space leader Regus has indicated that 85 percent of companies now offer some sort of flexible time arrangement:

The majority of those same companies are finding that flexible working is bringing them significant benefits, including reduced overhead expenses, improved staff productivity and work-life balance. Additionally, 62 percent of U.S. businesses believe flexible working costs less than fixed office working.

75 percent of businesses offering flexible working assert their staff has significantly better work-life balance, improving satisfaction and motivation. In addition, half believe flexible working improves staff productivity, and 25 percent say leveraging a flexible workplace helps them scale quickly to cope with rapid growth.  More than 30 percent of flexible working businesses also feel their policy helps them access a wider talent pool.

Yes, 85 percent is a large number, and knowing that there are still many people talking about flexible time, I have to wonder if there is more to this story than meets the eye?

Asking management versus asking employees

When I worked in retail, we used to joke that when we told prospective employees about flexible working hours, what that really meant was flexible working hours for us. Of course we worked around people’s schedules but rarely did people get to work at the times they wanted to.

If you asked the higher ups in the company if we offered a flexible schedule, they would answer in the affirmative. If you asked employees if they were happy with their schedules at any given time or if they felt like they were given flexibility, many would answer no.

To me, that’s the major disconnect in all flexible time arrangements. Employees and managers have different expectations and definitions when it comes to flexible time. And really, both have a good case.

Managers classify any flexible time arrangements as offering flexible time. If once in a while you have an appointment and you take home some work instead of taking time off, that can be considered flexible time. Even if a majority of the workforce isn’t covered by the benefit, you can still say you offer it in your company as long as some people get the benefit.

Employees tend to be more broad in their interpretation. They define it as having more control over their schedule. And while it isn’t universal how much leeway they feel they should be given for a position to be considered flexible time, certainly the more sophisticated are going to expect that the employer trusts them.

What’s important?

While the fact that many employers are saying they offer flexible time is a good thing (and that it is so widespread), I think I would be more interested in hearing how employees would rate flexible time. That may seem unfair to employers who feel they offer a benefit (even if some don’t recognize it as such) but I’ve got to wonder why employers would be interested in touting a benefit that isn’t appreciated by employees?

On another point, last month I mentioned in a piece I wrote for TLNT:

I applaud the effort [behind workplace flexibility] but some workplaces require some amount of inflexibility as a function, not simply through a desire to control employees and their schedule. If you operate a manufacturing facility that is up running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you’re going to have a lot of inflexibility. And many companies can’t afford to hire the extra heads to cover the sort of flexibility that these programs demand.

For employers in this situation to talk about flexible time seems to be missing the point. Focusing on other ways to make people in less flexible jobs feel better about their commitment to your company (either with cash or non-cash compensation) is better than trying to force flexibility into a situation it simply doesn’t belong.

We shouldn’t see workplace flexibility as the only gauge for progress in the workplace either. It’s an easy trap to fall into but one that leaves behind many other things that indicate progress (like competitive wages, benefits, opportunities for growth along with the all important flexibility). For those who feel like flexibility is out of reach, there are ways of making your workplace competitive and progressive.

Lance Haun is an editor at The Starr Conspiracy, a marketing agency focused on the enterprise HCM market. He spent three years as an editor at ERE Media and seven years in the recruiting and HR trenches before joining the agency. You can follow him on Twitter, circle him on Google+, check out his blog or contact him directly at lance@coug.rs.
  • Ginak

    This is a tricky one. If an employer is mandating an employee work on a Saturday but doesn’t want to pay the OT- when they then mandate the EE take a Flex day mid week to make up for it- the EE doesn’t really feel like they are benefiting from this flexible schedule arrangement. The flex schedule is supposed to work for the benefit of all- not disrupt the EE’s normal schedule to only benefit the company financially. Bottom line is that when the flex days become mandatory for the financial benefit of the company- it no longer classifies as a “flexible schedule”. It’s only flexible for one party & you end up with EE’s feeling disgruntled.

  • EPG

    When companies say “We do flex time”, what they really mean is that you can arrive up to 10 minutes after the start of the workday, IFF, you tell your manager in advance and work the 10 minutes you missed by leaving later.

    Hardly what the employee considers “flex time”.

  • Sean Racine

    The last schedule I worked was just 1/2 hour longer days and every fourth week, leave at normal time and take one day off – all hours were worked due to a 1950 hour work year rather than the usual 2080.  Generally same flex day every month, unless advanced notice.  Everyone on a different schedule, but at busy times things got moved around to suit the needs of the business.  People loved this, and we lost a few (seemingly out of spite) when they took it away.  That extra day off allowed people to take care of personal business that had to get done during business hours – they weren’t calling in sick to do it.  Obviously different schedules for different business/departments, but the overall attitude, commitment, and appreciation for their job was a HUGE benefit for everyone.  I don’t think upper management even considered the benefits to the business (much less the employees having one less commute).  For most working people, every little bit helps.  I can’t believe that more employers can’t find a way to make it work.  Maybe they should seek the advice of the people in the trenches – they will find a way to work it so that day-to-day operations run much more smoothly.  I personally have found ways to make it work in a group/department as little as two people, and my employers have always come back to tell me how much better it works than a fixed schedule.  You just have to be a little creative.

  • Thisstuffmakesmecrazy

    85% of companies offer flex time? I call BS. I’d like to see the definition of flex time in that equation.