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Flextime  and the
Emerging Business

 

 


          While every business faces obvious competition in the marketplace, the most serious competition challenging the emerging business is the rivalry for superior employees. Usually lacking many of the overwhelming economic resources enjoyed by the Fortune 500® corporations, the success and indeed the survival of the emerging business is heavily dependent upon exceptional people. Mediocre personnel may be buried or buffered within a large organization, but mediocrity cannot be tolerated in the emerging business. Each person must carry his or her load.

          In Year 2000, men as well as women are willing to make compromises to balance their career responsibilities and family obligations. The most competent people are not hesitant to decline employment opportunities that make it uncomfortable for them to meet the many situations arising when nurturing younger children -- or caring for elderly parents. As women and men are assuming overlapping family duties, their employer is no longer their only workday commitment. Capable employees are eager to do a good job, but today's lifestyles no longer fit into a Nineteenth Century industrial workplace. The rigid rules of yesterday are being bent; in many instances, they are obsolete and no longer needed.

          This quandary often centers upon what is termed face time -- the stipulated periods when an employee is required to be present and seen in the workplace. Traditionally, there were published starting and quitting times [e.g., 8:30 AM to 5:15 PM with a 45-minute lunch break; Mondays through Fridays], enforced with the factory whistle, timekeepers, and time clocks. In many industrial settings such as assembly line operations and complex team activities, this kind of workplace regimen may still be unavoidable. This environment can accommodate neither employee absence or tardiness -- even a two-hour absence to take a sick child to the doctor -- nor the employee who chooses to or needs to set her or his working hours differently than the company hours. Today, many of our best employees are found in this latter category. To meet the needs of these employees, employers are forced to re-think the importance of face time.

          During the past decade, many innovative alternatives have been introduced to meet this conundrum. When work can be task- or project-centered, employee performance can be measured simply by the satisfactory completion of the task rather than hours actually logged in the workplace. In many cases today, much of the work can actually be done at home or some other remote site. Another solution has been the enthusiastic, as opposed to the begrudging, acceptance of part-time employees. Still another variant has been job sharing where two part-timers work as a team to perform one job. But perhaps the most talked about response to this dilemma has been flextime. A generally accepted definition of flextime was offered by Barney Olmsted in "Flexible Work Arrangements: A Sea of Changes for Managers," Employee Relations Today, Winter 1990, pp.291-296, as "... work schedules that permit flexible starting and quitting times within limits set by management. ... generally operat[ing] ! as a rescheduled 40 hour 5 day work week with flexible periods at the beginning and end of the day."

          The popular press, the Conference Board, and even the Bureau of Labor Statistics have eagerly reported this revolution in the workplace as a fait accompli. Presumably, "everybody's doing it." In disillusionment, the owner/managers of many emerging businesses have assumed this is a perk that can be offered only by the major corporations. But the observed reality may be quite the opposite.

          A rather surprising study, "Flextime: Myth or Reality?" was published in the September-October 1994 issue of the Indiana University's, Business Horizons. Conducted by Karen S. Kush, Director of Human Resources at Whittman-Hart L.P. in Lombard, Illinois, and Linda K. Stroh, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Loyola University Chicago, this survey concluded that only 14 percent of the responding companies even offered any kind of a flextime program; several of these were significantly restricted. And almost all of the companies without a flextime program currently believe they are unlikely to adopt one. While numerous reasons and excuses are proffered, the reality is that -- rather than being the hottest management fad -- flextime is indeed uncommon.

          The good news is that this can offer the emerging business a strong recruitment advantage. With imagination and careful planning, many emerging businesses are able to offer a legitimate flextime program. This can bring some of the most qualified candidates in the workforce to our doorstep. Kush and Stroh confirm, "Employers that take steps to offer flexible work programs may be increasingly sought out by employees who need to balance a variety of roles. Pursuing this direction may better position firms to deal with the work force of tomorrow, placing them a step ahead of those that do not."


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Thomas A. Faulhaber, Editor

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Revised: September 10, 2004 TAF

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