Building a Culture of Workplace Flexibility

How time flies!  Was it just last year that Marissa Mayer issued her now famous ban on telecommuting?  Yes, all hell broke loose on February 21, 2013, when Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! (herself having just come off a work-from-home-maternity-leave), issued a personnel policy requiring all remote-working employees to convert to in-office roles. (Business Insider)

In celebration of the upcoming anniversary of the drama-that-was-mama, I caught up with Ogletree Deakins’ colleague, Kelly Hughes, who brought me up to speed on what’s been happening this year.  According to Hughes, “Everybody from in house counsel, to human resources professionals to bloggers to stay-at-home moms have an opinion on the Yahoo! telecommuting ban.”  An even broader debate, however, “has arisen between HR professions (who have to administer flexible work programs) regarding workplace flexibility tools in general.”   One thing is critical, reports Kelly, is the intersection between these workplace flexibility tools and various employment laws.

The Society for Human Resources Management created a guidebook for understanding workplace flexibility, or “workflex” (as coined by SHRM), called Workflex:  The Essential Guide to Effective and Flexible Workplaces.  In it, SHRM defines “workflex” as “how, when and where work gets done and how careers are organized.”   Workflex embodies an employee’s access to flexibility programs and organizational support to achieve enhanced personal and professional success.

SHRM partnered with the Families and Work Institute (FWI) to study the workflex programs being piloted every day in different industries and workplace segments.    As a result the most common, current flexibility tools have been divided into seven categories.

Before adopting any workflex took in your workplace, consult your employment lawyer.  Changing schedules can impact an employer’s obligations under state or federal wage and hour laws, and could raise issues with collective bargaining agreements for union employers.

7 Ways to build a culture of workplace flexibility

Choices in Managing Time

Programs that allow employees control over their own work schedules include shift choice among standard shifts such as regular daytime, evening and night shifts.  It could also include less typical rotating shifts by time or day, split shifts that include two distinct work periods in a single 24-hour work day, or variable (“on-call”) duty.  An employer needs to study flexibility from the perspective of how well an employee’s shift meets his or her needs – as well as how easily existing schedules can be adjusted.

Flex Time and Flex Place

Flex time arrangements – FWI defined flex time arrangements into 4 recognizable groups.  Flex time arrangements are often implemented to reduce commute times, manage employee interaction across multiple time zones, increase hours of operation, and take advantage of varied shifts to maintain a sustainable workforce by reducing work-life conflicts for employees.

Traditional flex time – Employees may vary the start and end time for their work day so long as hours surround (and include) fixed core operating hours.

Daily flex time – Employees may change their start and end time for a single day (or short group of days) on short notice when unexpected or special needs arise.

Compressed workweeks – Employees redistribute their weekly scheduled work hours into fewer days.  The most common compressed workweek is ten hours per day for four days per week instead of eight hours per day for five days.

Flex place – Employees may work some or most of their hours offsite.  This would include telecommuting.

Some flex time arrangements (most notably, Compressed Workweeks) impose significant notice, voting and documentation obligations on employers under state and federal labor laws.  Please consult with an attorney before implementing a flex time arrangement for your workforce, for any division of your workforce or even a single employee seeking an alternative work schedule.

Reduced Time

The reduced time concept allows employees to change from full to part time, or part to full time work.

Time Off

Time off from work can be thought of in two categories: time off that is anticipated and planned (vacations, holidays, planned medical events such as surgery or pregnancy) and time off that is unanticipated and unplanned (unplanned medical or disability leave, sick children, jury duty, etc).  State and federal laws have significant impact  on time off flex time policies.

Flex Careers

Flex careers enable employees to dial up or dial down their careers by taking extended time off for caregiving or sabbaticals.  They also enable employees to phase into retirement.

Dealing with Overwork

Employee burnout from overwork is a work-life balance issue for employees and an attrition and productivity issue for employers.  Overwork workflex initiatives could include:

  • Enable employees to reduce unnecessary work, unnecessary travel and create reasonable e-mail policies;
  • Encourage and incentivize employees to take vacations, build in time for rest and recovery and develop time off policies for creative thinking; and
  • Create results-only work environments.

Culture of Flexibility

Workplace support for flexibility and the absence of jeopardy.  If you listen carefully, this is a generational issue.  Working fewer hours – and working smarter due to technological issues is a fundamental “millennial” workplace issue. Under a culture of flexibility, workers should not be forced to choose career advancement and their family or personal lives.  Human resources should examine its historical data to determine whether Is there any real jeopardy associated with the use of flexibility?  Even so, employees could perceive the jeopardy.  That is, employees could believe there would be negative consequences to their job or career advancement due to its use?

Supervisor and coworker support.  Supervisor and coworker support for flexibility is a key factor in employees’ quality of life.  Supervisorial fairness, responsiveness and understanding in responding to employee’s personal and family needs, and employees’ willingness to bring personal and family issues up at work are critical factors.  Teamwork, consisting of coworker support, includes working on a team level to support each other, to pitch in when necessary and to solve problems in ways that feel equitable.

Thinking of instituting workflex programs or tools?  Check out Blogging4Jobs’ HR Technology Selection Guide.  If want to create a workflex program that does not conflict with local or national employment laws, send me an email at  Kelly Hughes or I would be happy to help.

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Mary Wright

Mary Wright is the Founding Editor of HR Gazette, an online magazine for HR professionals and employment lawyers. She is an employment lawyer with 25+ years' experience in helping employers reach workable business solutions to complex human resource problems. She is currently a Shareholder with Ogletree Deakins and the firm's former General Counsel. Connect with Mary.


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