The View from HR

Flexible schedules can help retain top talent

October 20, 2012 

There is no more popular work/life balance topic today than flexible scheduling. Depending on whom you ask, it can also be deeply unpopular!

To a traditional manager, it is a way for people to work less and hide more. To a traditional employee, “flexible” might mean “I have to cover for them while they are out.”

To a manager working to motivate, reward and retain their best, it is another tool to do just that. To a forward-looking HR professional, it may someday become part of the company culture and values, providing a distinct marketplace advantage.

Flexibility takes all forms, and creativity is the only limit. Yes, it could look like a simple deviation from the typical work schedule or even a job share. But whether time is “made up,” hours are reduced in total, expectations are adjusted, pay is changed, or benefits are retained or lost should be an important part of your flexibility discussion.

Does flexibility sometimes fail? Of course! People who cannot handle current requirements of timeliness, attention, performance, responsiveness or trust are not good candidates for flexibility. It is our best employees who deserve the most flexibility.

Lawful distinctions

I generally side with the advocates of flexibility. We have many employees on nontraditional schedules, work sites, hours and such. Some were requested by the customer, some by the employee, some by a temporary life circumstance, but in every case it has worked.

Remember, no law requires you to treat every employee the same. You can (and should) make lawful distinctions based on objective factors. Just because one person in a job category has a flexible schedule in some way does not mean everyone must get the same. Careful thought around how and why roles can become flexible and why this person was offered flexibility will help ensure fairness.

Start to look at flexibility less as an employee benefit and more as a management technique, as an arrow in your strategy quiver.

Not going away

Even jobs with customer-set work hours, production responsibilities and seemingly set work conditions can successfully welcome some flexibility. Does the receptionist really have to be in that chair every hour the door is open? Maybe, but there might also be ways to be more flexible.

Employees, take your request for flexibility seriously before you can expect your manager to do the same. Why do you want a unique schedule? What are your employer’s likely objections? How can you ensure that work will get done efficiently? How could it get done even better? What is it about your history that could make them hesitant? How will flexibility help them keep an excellent employee well into the future?

Flexibility will be on the minds of some of your best employees one day. How you respond may make your organization a stronger or weaker performer.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm, with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro. CAI helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

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