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

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Mar 16, 2011

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.