Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flextime Is No Time To Panic

Many small business owners who reject employees' requests for flextime believe that such an arrangement will be inefficient and too costly for a company of their size.

But let me tell you from experience that a carefully managed flextime program will not only help you retain key employees, but also can hold down costs and boost workplace morale and company loyalty.

We know that family demands today place enormous stress on employees. To address their balancing issues, a growing number of businesses with fewer than 100 employees offer as many as six different flextime options, according to the Survey on Workplace Flexibility.

What do these small business owners know? That denying flextime requests can backfire. For example, the 2009 Shriver report found that 86 percent of women who left a workplace cited a lack of flexibility as a key reason for their departure. When valued employees quit, time and money are needed to recruit and train new hires.

When I first began granting flextime to employees here at American Express, I found that two myths were quickly dispelled:

  • First: There wasn't a run on the bank, so to speak, by other employees rushing for the same flextime deal. Most employees preferred to work at the office.
  • Second: The biggest impact was on those who didn't participate in these flexible arrangements. These full-time employees became more positive about the workplace. They felt greater loyalty knowing that a flextime program existed because that signaled a strong commitment to employee needs and provided options should they need them down the road.

A flextime program's success depends largely on trust, commitment and how well it's managed:

  • Scope the employee's abilities before granting flextime. Also, be realistic about the tasks assigned, given the person's new schedule and capacity. If an employee's track record shows a history of not delivering, flextime is a not good option right now.
  • Agree on a trial period as well as a review when the trial period ends—and periodically thereafter. An employee needs to know from the start that flextime's duration is based on customer feedback and business results, and that performance will drive sustainability of the program.
  • Set clear deliverables and deadlines. Be clear about what you want and by when. This process will force you to be a little more buttoned-up, but that's essential for being a good leader and manager, anyway.
  • Establish methods of employee participation. Many small-business owners believe that interactions will break down when flextime employees aren't in the daily flow. I've found that communication doesn't go away. In fact, with the use of basic technology, communication can be more focused and frequent.  Your employees just need to find a new routine.
  • Be transparent about checking in. Let the employee know that you're going to randomly check in, just like when you stop by their desk on location. Be authentic. You don't want flextime employees to think you're sneaking up on them.
  • Verify that the deliverable you set is still at the top of the list. It's not enough just to call. Probe when checking in. Ask about obstacles and let the employee know you're going to contact customers that the employee services. You want to make sure that your customer base is receiving the same level of access and service they have come to expect.
  • Delegate the tracking of progress to the employee. For instance, ask for an e-mail or voicemail once a week with updates on pending projects. Or request that the employee produce a daily or weekly report—whatever works best for you. Remember, employees like clarity around objectives, and tracking helps them as well (as long as it's not onerous).
  • Create feedback mechanisms to evaluate the quality of submitted work and your leadership of the new arrangement.  Open dialog helps identify emerging issues so that they can be fine-tuned and resolved.

Before assuming you don't have the bandwidth or budget for flextime programs, think about where you'll find the time and money to find and train a new hire when the employee who was denied flextime makes the only choice he or she feels they have to address family needs.

Do you offer flextime options for your employees?  Share your comments below

Thanks to Susan Sobbott / Open Forum / American Express Company

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