Managers & FLSA Laws Stifling Work Flex Adoption
Jessica Miller-Merrell | HR, Work| By
Is Flex Work Week Scheduling Possible?
While workplace flexibility options like telecommuting, work flex, and flexible schedule options by employers are on the rise, only a small percentage of employees have access to such benefits. As a mother to a toddler who juggles the demands of both work and family life, I am a firm believer in the need for companies to embrace this trend in order to retain top talent and attract the growing female workforce.
Statistics released from the Families and Work Institute provided some promising numbers in the adoption of work flex and work week programs.
- Work Flex time offered by 77 percent of workplaces (up from 66 percent in 2005).
- Flex place/telecommuting 63 percent adoption (up from 34 percent).
- Employee choices in managing time 93 percent (up from 78 percent).
- Daily time off when important needs arise offered by 87 percent of companies (up from 77 percent).
These findings while positive present some concerns for me. The survey which was completed by companies doesn’t take into account the adoption rate of the work flex programs within the organization, mainly the offering of such benefits by front line managers to their employees. And I’m certain that if the Families and Work Institute surveyed the employees of the organizations, the adoption rate of such programs would be completely different.
Managers Reason for Lagging Adopting of Work Flex Week
Flexible work environments present challenges for corporate managers many who don’t care enough to care about their employee. These company perks and benefits pose control issues and management problems within their already maintained system. These conflicts often surround the topic of favoritism and the understanding of the different between productivity and hours worked. A growing number of managers aren’t equipped to handle these complications let alone receive training on how to effectively manage telework or employees who participate in work flex. And so managers ignore what’s uncomfortable penalizing those that take advantage of these programs or fail to offer them to their employee population altogether.
These challenges were present in the pilot program that I rolled out in my last corporate HR role over three years ago. We implemented work flex program for our hourly top performers within one of our call center facilities. (Read more about workplace flexibility terminology here.)Thirty employees participated and were within our top 10% of workplace performers. Employees had an established performance record, good work ethic, and because of that were afforded more flexible schedules. Employees were offered the option to work 4 ten hour shifts and offered the option to have flexible work times between the hours of 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday thru Friday.
Employee Engagement Strategy that Presents Manager Obstacles
The employees who participated felt empowered, more engaged and their performance overall maintained over the course of our 180 day pilot program. Only two of the orginal 30 returned to their original work schedules after the pilot was complete. Their managers, however, proved to be the most challenging resenting the employees who were given a flexible schedule when in that same position they had not. Additionally, the managers were not equipped to lead and manage employees who had the autonomy to manage themselves let alone their own schedules. This was not the way things had always been done.
The reality is that most flexible work programs are designed for exempt level employees, those that are salaried employees and those that do not punch a clock as an hourly employee. So as a manager, I get to take advantage of corporate flexible scheduling programs because I am a salaried employee, while my hourly and non-exempt employee counter parts and employees cannot and do not. These realities cause hostility and negatively impact the manager’s work team.
FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) Laws in US are Obsolete
Except that offering work flex to all employee hourly and salary posing even more complications. And in some cases it’s against the law. The problem is that we are working under an outdated system where US laws have not evolved to handle the change in focus to the flexible schedule and virtual workforce. One such law is the FLSA which is also known as the Fair Labor Standards Act and according to the FLSA, a teleworker employee like a call center employee can’t flex their schedule to accommodate their life. If they are an inside sales representative who manages a territory, they are required to work 40 hours a week making flexible scheduling very complex. And do not get me started on the employment laws of California.
Take the retail department manager who has a product reset this week. Her store manager won’t authorize the overtime to get the reset finished, so she is faced with working off the clock in order to maintain her job and health care benefits. When the ideal solution would be for the company to offer a work flexible schedule allowing the manager to work less hours the week after or before and improving her quality of work, focus, and productivity.
The department manager’s problem in the last paragraph isn’t FLSA – it’s an employer which gave her a task she was not capable of completing within the stated deadline, refused to give her the allowances necessary to complete the job within the deadline, and was prepared to fire her for not completing the task within the constraints of that workweek. The employer’s refusal to pay overtime is not that department manager’s fault, and if she was a non-exempt employee, then the fact that she had to work overtime off-the-clock with no pay at all in order to keep her job could be a serious legal problem for that organization. She may have done it willingly without being directly told or asked to by her employer, but the pressures she faced in that scenario might still be enough to sustain an argument that she had essentially been forced to do so.
Flex time probably would have made her employer more willing to grant her the extra hours needed to complete the project by removing the cost of overtime pay, as well as giving her less work in the following week, but I’m not sure that’s a win for the department manager who loses out on overtime pay one week and gets fewer payable hours the next. I’m also not even entirely sure it’s a win for the employer, which has already demonstrated itself to be inadequate at designating the proper amounts of work to fit an employee’s scheduled hours and will likely have a problem adjusting the next week’s workload to account for her shorter week.
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Only one question for you. Have you ever worked retail? If the answer is no, you have no idea.
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