If having happy, engaged employees is a goal of most businesses, is flextime the simple solution for getting there? Workplace experts admit offering flexible schedules comes with benefits, and a lot of employees say it's important to them. But before you let your employees make their own hours experts say companies need to know the potential pitfalls.
Scheduling meetings, and getting prompt answers to calls and emails suffer when employees are on varying work hours, and this could slow the progress on important projects, says Charles Mitchell, cofounder of the recruiting and staffing firm All About People. "The wasted time could really add up," he says. "To head this off, make sure expectations are communicated well ahead of deadlines, and agree on a time during regular hours for that employee to always be available by email or phone."
Flextime could impact your relationship with customers, creating bottlenecks when some employees are out, says Mitchell. "Being understaffed can lead to costly gaps in service, and disappoint otherwise loyal customers," he says. "This is another situation that would be partly solved by agreeing on a time during regular business hours that your employee will always be available."
If there's competition in the office or if the boss never takes time off, employees may feel pressured to not use the program, and this can lead to a workaholic culture, says Angela Howell, author of Finding the Gift: Daily Meditations for Mindfulness.
"At least with nine-to-five employees, there's a suggested starting and stopping point, and a realistic gauge of what's acceptable productivity in a regular workday," she says.
Having employees working from home or nontraditional hours also results in less face time and bonding. "In the entrepreneurship world, they call it ‘collision points’ where coffee spots and ping pong tables are intended to ensure employees run into each other to communicate, socialize, and build camaraderie," says Chip Manning, director of the Babson Center for Global Commerce at Sewanee: The University of the South. "Flextime can run counter to this desire."
A flextime employee may actually burn out quicker, says Howell. "They may not be working any more hours than before, but they may begin to feel they are always working, or always feel compelled to be working due to the absence of structured hours and a designated work space," she says.
You can’t account for distractions outside of the office, adds Mitchell. "If the employee is using work-from-home time when they should probably just be taking a personal day, this can quickly cut into your bottom line," he says. "It helps to communicate clear deadlines and outline everything that employee is responsible for, so there is no confusion."
If your flextime policy is too lax, it might lead employees to set up an arrangement where they can do less work and have more time for recreation, says Mitchell. "An unfortunate aspect of human nature is that we seek out what makes us feel good, sometimes at the expense of others," he says.
You and your employee must set clear expectations on the scope of work, realistic timetables, and how work is to be delivered. "If anything does not meet these standards, the flextime arrangement should be reevaluated," he says.
The biggest challenge with flexibility of all types today, whether it’s flextime or remote work, is that more than half of employees are not trained how to use it, says Cali Williams Yost, CEO of Flex+Strategy Group, a flexible workplace consultant.
"As a result a majority who work flexible hours are flying by the seat of their pants," she says. "To optimize the potential of flexibility you first have to know what it is you are trying to achieve on and off the job. Then, you can determine how working flexibly can help you get there as productively as possible."
Leaders who view flextime as a surefire vehicle to attract and keep top performers should rethink its power, says Kent Burns, president of Simply Driven Executive Search. Flextime and work-life balance are both 20th-century concepts, he says. "There is no more work-life balance; it’s all life," he says. "The same is true with flextime. It doesn’t exist anymore; there’s just time. Those who experience the most success are the people who can appropriately manage their lives around achieving results versus adhering to concepts like balance and flextime."
Burns suggests managing by results, not hours. "Your whole life is an exercise in flextime," he says. "We don’t spend time discussing balance or lack of balance in our lives. I’ve found that if you hire the right people, then you don’t need programs like flextime."