In the midst of an economic downturn that has been compared to the 1929 Great Depression, the United States’ unemployment figures are far too high. “The unemployment rate rose from 9.8 to 10.2% in October, and nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline (-190,000), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The largest job losses over the month were in construction, manufacturing, and retail trade.” (Bureau of Labor Statistics) The ten percent mark seems high but it has not matched the Great Depression high at over twenty five percent, yet. Obviously, getting and maintaining a job is very important objective right now. Some management teams around the nation have successfully implemented various solutions to the problem of high levels of layoffs and job elimination during this current financial meltdown. The underlying goal is to try new approaches that will keep workers employed and companies operating in a fiscally responsible way. Keeping people on the payroll even when new orders and productivity are down is no easy undertaking. The objective is to allow for people to fill all of the needs of the company as opposed to outsourcing. For example, one company in Boston on the national news pointed out that it had their employees filling many new roles like mowing lawns, painting the warehouse and doing minor secretarial work, all of which was outsourced prior to the nation’s economic problems. The news anchor discussed with the midsized organization’s CEO how the company actually made money because of reduced outsourcing costs. The other key point he made was that the employees were all very motivated and that they were also extremely thankful that they were still on the payroll. The CEO pointed out that the entire experiment in social engineering was possible because everyone across the board took a mandatory cut in hours through four day work weeks for all. This organization may or may not be able to maintain this strategy, but the important thing to note is that they were innovative enough to at least try. This paper will look at some potential flexible scheduling approaches that small, midsize and fortune 500 companies can attempt as viable options to forced job cuts while the nation struggles to regain its economic edge.
Flexible work programs are not just used to save companies that are in financial trouble. “In the U.S. specifically, the customary work ethic has always boasted long hours and face time at the office as essential ingredients of the recipe to success.” (World at Work) These programs were actually very popular when our economy was booming. The key is that they are used in order to provide both the employee and the employer with more flexible scheduling possibilities and options. These types of arrangement often produce win/win scenarios for both the management of the company and the individual ranks of the employees. The win/win occurs because there are so many additional ways to incorporate freedom and flexibility into how the employment positions are filled as well as how the organizational infrastructure is used. Consider for example a desk, cubicle or office being shared as opposed to one employee tying up that same work area up from 8 to 5 on Monday through Friday, but then it is sitting unoccupied and unused for the remaining parts of each business day or including any weekend.
Some creative entrepreneurial businesses actually use buildings in flexible settings where the entire building can be utilized by different departments or entities at specific times but never claiming a full stake in the building in order to maximize the use of the facility for overall organizational success. Those who support these types of flexible work programs and atmospheres understand that these programs are well rounded and extremely important opportunities. The computer industry has been using this type of platform approach ever since computing power was centralized in mainframe computers.
Like the computing industry meeting the needs of multiple users, flexible work scheduling programs allow employers to meet the multiple needs of their employees that either need or simply choose to add additional points of balance into their lives. These points of reference can often be second jobs: often seen in the nursing industry with 48 work/60pay scheduling options. Nurses are often working in two facilities at the same time and the flexible scheduling rarely if ever overlaps. Other references are simply being better parents or family members as in the case of Hospice scenarios or if a child or senior family member has a chronic illness and needs support. Whatever the case, the bottom line is that employers who use these methods understand that there are other things in life than work which ironically make companies more attractive to prospective employees.
Of course there are also critics of these types of arrangements. Those opposed point out that even though these types of flexible work initiatives make great strides in correcting long misunderstood inequities of the work life balance, the programs are not far reaching enough and poorly thought out and implemented plans may actually be harmful to a company’s growth potential and opportunities. Consider a rather common example about General Motors in the Industrial Engineer journal. “There is a surge in demand for a new sporty version of a popular existing family car that could in turn lead to a surge in demand for rear spoilers. If, however, the company had contracted for too few spoilers then it would have to sell more basic vehicles than sporty vehicles. Some customers would be without their most desired product and substantial discounting could be required to sell what was actually produced. Conversely, lower demand for a product line or a whole class of products could lead to disproportionately large overcapacity problems for certain parts. This would result in losses due to contractual obligations, unnecessarily high upfront costs and product discounting.” (Research)
There are many variations in the flexible movement. The more well-known programs are off shoots of the most common program, flextime. Flextime offers employees a wider range of potential hours and shifts in terms of how a work day is timed, when it begins and when it ends. The key is always monitoring the most important aspect, the total number of hours required by the employer to justify a full or part time schedule. Flexible work arrangements can be shaped into many forms. As mentioned, off shoots of this program include variations like telecommuting, job-sharing, compressed work weeks, shortened schedules, 24-hour building usage and just in time employees.
There are many theories of how best to implement a flexible work program but there are some common themes. These principles are probably considered to be normal operational procedures, but far too often businesses jump on the band wagon of what is hot at the time without doing the due diligence to be sure that a new methodology or program is right for them and the reasons it would be a success. The foundation for the implementation of a flexible work environment entails:
Research entails many things to many different companies. For example, one organization may feel that the only concern of implementing a new flex program could be the potential negative impact on an overtaxed Human Resources or payroll department while another company may feel that a new flex program may be a security or technology-based nightmare. These are both right, or they could both be wrong. These issues need to be researched and understood before a flex program is implemented by each individual company. “While results of this study indicate workplace cultures in the U.S. are trying to incorporate flexibility and enhance work-life integration for some employees with particular needs, there are more steps to take before flexible schedules evolve beyond isolated, individual perks. Employees who disclose a personal reason for a flexible work request are more likely to have it approved in three out of four organizations, although something more than “I would like more control over my schedule” appears necessary. Requests due to medical, child care or other urgent personal matters are likely to be approved, perhaps because a “good enough reason” is required to trump the traditional presumption about when, where and how we work.” (World at Work)
Some Fortune 500 companies utilize detailed Six Sigma analysis tools to verify if individual departments, teams and programs can benefit from successfully implemented flex programs. The real purpose of the research is to clearly identify if the flex options would be good or bad in each individual situation. All companies operate in their own vacuum so to speak so, what is good for company A may be completely wrong for company B. Success or failure at neighboring organizations or even subsidiaries does not necessarily mean that a program may or may not work somewhere else. The effort spent at the research phase of an operation can save potentially infinite amounts of lost wages, time and effort.
Documentation of any new program is mission critical. Understanding and documenting the guidelines and systems processes of any new flex program is vital to its success. The guidelines most take into consideration the business’s needs and at the same time promote a fair safe work environment and still be thorough and comprehensive. The organizations should make the process of creating and documenting these guidelines a very ceremonial process that is well understood by all employees whether they support it or are against it. The guideline will provide a viable blueprint of what is best for the company and can help reduce antagonism brought on by non-supporters. “Partly to avoid polarizing staffers who have school-aged children and those who don’t, more general terms (such as work-life and flexible work arrangements) are gaining favor,” noted Kirrane. “In the workplace there is concern about equity.” (Kirrane)
Any successful program is often one that is well understood and supported. The way to consistently receive the support of employees comes in the way of training and educating all involved. “Flexible work arrangements may be accessible, but workplace culture can play a huge role in determining whether employees actually make use of the opportunity. About 56% of organizations report their culture is supportive of employees taking time at work for personal issues, although a sizable minority (40%) say the level of support is highly dependent on individual supervisors.” (World at Work) Successful companies find creative ways to educate the staff about mission critical policies and educate the teams to a point where they feel a sense of comfort when utilize the programs. Control provides a means to measure the success or failure of the program and also the training of the staff regarding the program.
Evaluation is a major part of the learning process for organizations. Evaluation is the process in which businesses regulate themselves by monitoring their own data. In other words, the company evaluates a portion of its output data to itself. A good example of the organizational evaluation process is an automatic pilot system. In the majority of situations, an autopilot process offers data to computers that are flying the plane with constant evaluations of the required information regarding a plane’s speed, altitude and direction. Each time that airplane shifts off course ever so slightly; a computer receives this data and then gradually makes directional adjustments. These adjustments allow the plane to constantly head in the right direction. The flex program through many observations will continue thrive if monitored.
In closing, today’s business world requires new approaches in a globally-based economic environment. One solution too many problems is a flexible employment scheduling process like telecommuting. Programs like this continue to grow, in mainly because businesses aim to grow and prosper as they improve the quality of life for their employees. “And as Kirrane noted, other familiar practices and benefits continue to contribute to flexibility and strengthened families as well, including employee assistance program referrals, seminars, and counseling; assistance and subsidies for work-related moves; and leaves and subsidies for education of employees and family members. “Looking ahead, as more American workplaces and homes become networked electronically, it is to be expected that some of today’s new-fangled arrangements will become familiar, too.” (Kirrane) This paper reviewed some potential flexible scheduling approaches that small, midsize and fortune 500 companies could attempt to serve as viable options to job reductions and until the United States regains its economic edge.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2009). “Employment Situation Summary.” Retrieved on December 1, 2009, from United States Department of Labor at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm.
Kirrane, Diane E. (1994). “Wanted: Flexible Work Arrangements.” Association Management. November.
Leveen-Sher, Margery. (1996) “Flexibility Is the Key to Small Business Benefits.” Washington Business Journal. February 16.
Research. (2009). Edited by Susan Albin., Joseph Hartman. Industrial Engineer: IE; Dec., Vol. 41, Issue 12, p48-50, 3p, 3 color
World at Work. (2005). “A WorldatWork Survey.” A Survey of Members of WorldatWork and AWLP. October. Retrieved on December 1, 2009, from http://www.worldatwork.org/pub/E157963FWS05.pdf.
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