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Inject more oversight, responsibility into flex schedules

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in FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

Issue: With flexible schedules reaching near-entitlement status, some employers are pulling in the reins on this runaway perk.

Benefit: A tighter and clearer flex-schedule policy helps you regain control over the benefit and increase productivity.

Action: Require more accountability out of employees who want to work on a flexible schedule.

Flexible work arrangements may seem like an entitlement among employees these days, thanks to years of heavy HR emphasis on accommodating work/life conflicts.

But now, the pendulum is swinging back in the employers' camp. Fresh evidence shows that more organizations are rewriting their rules regarding who can use flex schedules and how they'll be used.

While employers realize that flex schedules are a key retention tool, they're no longer shy about driving home the message that day-to-day productivity can't suffer because of an employee's altered schedule.

Putting more structure and accountability into the process makes it less of an ad hoc perk. Here are four ways to structure flexible work arrangements in a more systematic way:

1. Ask employees to apply. Create guidelines and systems of flex-program administration that address all business needs and stand up to tests of fairness and comprehensiveness.

Example: RSM McGladrey Inc., a Minnesota accounting firm, now has all employees justify their flexible schedules in writing, submitting a short proposal to show how it helps clients and co-workers, as well as themselves, and describing how it should be evaluated.

2. Make workers manage them. Ultimately, a flex arrangement is worth keeping only if it benefits your company's financial, strategic and production goals.

At an Arizona insurance office, employees meet to discuss their preferred compressed workweek schedules and plan out how the assigned workload will get done. Everyone knows their co-workers' schedules and duties; it's no longer just the manager's job. As a result, making employees more accountable for results has led to increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.

3. Require cross-training before you approve flex schedules. Training workers in multiple jobs ensures that backup employees are always available to fill in.

Example: PrintingForLess.com, a commercial printer, runs customer service employees through a grueling 16 weeks of training so they can perform an array of sales, customer service and production tasks. Then, working in three-person teams with trained "designated hitters" as added backup, employee teams schedule their own workweeks.

4. Set a trial period. If you're not sure a flex arrangement will work, set a three- or six-month trial period, after which adjustments can be made. Explain up front that you'll cancel the arrangement if results don't pan out.

Online resource on flex-schedule policy:  Access a sample policy at www.worklifealliance.org/policies/family/work.

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