FAQ - Flexible Work Arrangements: Myth/Reality
Reality: All of the flexible work arrangement possibilities described in this Guide are possible under personnel policies and contracts. (There may, however, be union notice requirements in some situations, so supervisors should contact their Employee Relations Consultant when proposing changes for employees covered by contracts, to determine whether notice is necessary.)
Reality: Flexible work arrangements have been around in one form or another since the University was founded. What is new is the rapid expansion of their use for staff. A great many campus employees are already working in flexible arrangements of some sort - and most employees are happy with only very minor variations in the "old 8 to 5."
In other words,
- These arrangements are not new, and
- Small changes can produce big results in terms of retention, morale, and productivity.
Reality: With inadequate planning, this can indeed happen. However, well-planned flexible work arrangements sometimes enable departments to extend their service hours, and to make more effective use of space and equipment. In addition, flexible work arrangements can facilitate flexible staffing patterns that lead to real cost savings.
Reality: Flexible work arrangements are not a right; supervisors retain control. No supervisor is required to--and no supervisor should--approve any arrangement that will have a negative impact on the unit's ability to meet its responsibilities. (However, the supervisor should certainly keep an open mind in reviewing requests, and should make reasonable efforts to determine ways in which disruptions to operations can be avoided. As stated above, Human Resources staff and workshops are available to help you make this determination.)
Reality: Flexible work arrangement decisions must be fair; however, fairness is not the same as equality. It is true that all employees should have an equal right to request consideration for a flexible work arrangement. However, whether a particular flexible work arrangement is feasible for a particular employee depends on a variety of factors, including the nature of the work assignment and characteristics of the employee.
- Work which demands physical presence (for example, receptionist, maintenance, or food service) cannot be done while telecommuting.
- An employee who needs close personal supervision (for example, someone in the probationary period, or someone with a poor performance record) may be required to be at work only when the supervisor is present.
- An employee who needs to have constant, easy access to materials or to equipment may be required to be present when those materials or pieces of equipment are accessible.
- No employee should be permitted to work in situations that are potentially dangerous, due to equipment or security concerns.
There are, however, ways to work around some of the above concerns. The Police Department, for example, can help address security concerns for employees working unusual hours; supervision can be exercised by means other than direct observations; and employees with duties requiring physical presence can sometimes share these duties with other employees, so that some of their job, some of the time, does not require physical presence. Your Employee Relations Consultant can help you determine what might be feasible.
Reality: Assignment of schedules and work locations is a basic management right. Employees may request consideration, but they do not have a right to any particular arrangement. Employees requesting changes in work arrangements should use the attached checklist, "Developing a Proposal: Checklist for a Flexible Work Arrangement," to try to address management's concerns before making a formal request.
Reality: It is not effective - nor really even possible - to know how hard employees are working by watching them work. Employees who are closely observed often resent it and work less well as a result; it's not possible to stand over someone's shoulder anyway. Unless you are eavesdropping on phone conversations or staring at someone's computer screen, you can't know whether what they are doing is work-related. Thus, eyeball management is not useful, and needs to be replaced with a focus on results--regardless of what arrangement anyone has.
Reality: Supervisors can set reasonable parameters for flexible schedules (for example, core periods are strongly advised, and employees can be required to come in for emergencies). Also, attendance records must be kept, just as for employees on more traditional schedules. Finally, overtime compensation requirements remain in effect for employees who are non-exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and overtime policies under personnel policies and contracts must be followed. (For example, non-exempt employees must still request approval in advance before working overtime.)
Reality: With proper planning, communications problems can be minimized. Some techniques and tools include sign-out boards, clear procedures regarding check-in times and hours of availability, emergency coverage, provisions for availability of and security for materials, and use of electronic tools (i.e., voice mail, e-mail, fax machines, and dedicated phone lines).
Reality: Flexible work arrangements can function as a no-cost benefit that actually increases productivity. Most of the literature on flexible work arrangements indicates that morale and productivity improve when employees are permitted even a small degree of flexibility. Recruitment capability and retention rates improve as well, and absenteeism is often reduced.
For example, a 1995 survey of 200 'Fortune 1000' companies regarding telecommuting indicated that 58% of employers reported increased productivity (on the order of 20% more productive); 61% reported reduced absenteeism; 63%, improved retention; 64%, reduced costs for office space; 63%, reduced stress; and 79%, improved morale. (Source: Bureau of National Affairs, 11/6/95.) In a 1991 study of six major Bay Area corporations conducted by this campus's Institute for Transportation Studies, "Managers reported that flexible scheduling improved productivity, morale, and punctuality, and that absenteeism declined when workers exercised some choice in their work schedules."