Flexible Work Schedules

Flexible work schedules, also known as flextime schedules, grants employees some freedom in deciding what time of day they will arrive at and leave from work. For example, an employee may prefer to work from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. one day of the week and from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on another day. The exact administrative rules of flextime schedules vary greatly across companies, but when flextime schedules are put into place, employers usually create a band of core time during which each employee must be present (normally 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 or 3:00 p.m.). For example, a flexible work schedule in which all employees must be present from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. would have five core hours. Employees are free to arrive before the core start time and leave after the core finish time, but typically, there is a limit as to how early employees can arrive and how late they can stay. For example, an employer may dictate that employees cannot start before 7:00 a.m. and cannot stay past 9:00 p.m.

Another important characteristic that may vary widely among flexible work schedule arrangements concerns the degree of carryover. Some organizations do not permit any carryover of hours (i.e., the employee must work eight hours per day), whereas others permit carryover on a weekly basis (i.e., no requirement for eight hours per day, but employees must work 40 hours per week), and a few organizations even allow monthly carryover.

Recent surveys of the American workforce indicate that more than 25% of employees have the ability to change their daily work starting and ending times, and this number is increasing every year. Much of the increased offering or use of flexible work schedules is the result of societal changes (e.g., increasing numbers of women in the workforce, dual-career households). One can theorize that these changes have increased employee demands for flexibility in their work schedules so that they can better balance their work and family lives. Thus, flextime schedules are becoming more popular, and an increasing number of employees are making use of them.

However, a review of the literature reveals that certain segments of the population do not have access to flexible work schedules because of the industry they work in or the type of employment that they have (e.g., part-time versus full-time). For example, flex-time schedules are used almost exclusively in non-manufacturing organizations. This may be attributable to the fact that a flextime schedule is more difficult to implement in continuous process operations such as assembly lines. Individuals who work part-time in any type of industry are much less likely to have access to flexible work schedules. Given that manufacturing and part-time jobs are less likely to offer flexible work schedules, it is not surprising to find that employees who are female, less educated, and non-White are also less likely to have access to flexible work schedules in the United States.

Perceived Benefits of Flexible Work Schedules

The reasons for the popularity of flexible work schedules are many and diverse but generally include a combination of personal, organizational, and societal gains that are presumed to derive from allowing workers to more effectively balance their personal lives with the demands of work. For example, the presumed positive effects of flexible work schedules include reduced commuter congestion, increased customer or client service, broadened work opportunities for employees, reduced amounts of work-family conflict, and better utilization of recreational and service facilities.

Several theoretical models are useful for describing how flexible work schedules affect important outcomes.

The work adjustment model has been used to explain how flextime schedules influence employees’ attitudes and behaviors. This model suggests that a high correlation between an employee’s abilities and the ability requirements of the job should lead to high role performance. Furthermore, a high correlation between an employee’s needs and the reinforcement system of the work environment should lead to more positive job attitudes. Work adjustment is high when individuals fulfill their work and role requirements and when the organization simultaneously fulfills the needs of the individual.

Another theoretical model that can be used to explain the effects of flexible work schedules is the job characteristics theory. This model is based on the belief that the core characteristics of a job (e.g., autonomy, task identity) induce positive psychological states, which, in turn, lead to positive outcomes such as job performance and job satisfaction. For example, a flextime schedule should positively affect employees’ sense of autonomy, thereby increasing job satisfaction. Using these models, several theoretical arguments can be made about the effect of flexible work schedules on some of the most important organizational outcomes: productivity and performance, absenteeism, and job satisfaction.

Using the work adjustment model, it can be hypothesized that flexible schedules allow employees to make more efficient use of their circadian rhythms (the normal 24-hour physiological cycle) and may decrease the amount of work-arrival-related stress that employees experience. Employees who make more efficient use of their circadian rhythms should experience a higher correlation between their abilities and the ability requirements of the job. Research on person-job fit supports the idea that congruence between the individual and the job environment leads to higher performance. Although the results of research on the relationship between job stress and job performance are mixed, it seems safe to assert that if reduced job stress leads to a reduction in negative reactions, then job performance can be expected to increase.

The implementation of a flextime schedule also gives employees more job autonomy. The job characteristics theory predicts that increased job autonomy should lead to increased job performance. Indeed, the research supports this relationship. In sum, with respect to productivity and performance, the introduction of a flexible work schedule can be expected to have positive effects.

Additionally, flexible work schedules should have an effect on employee absenteeism. Organizational attendance should increase as the amount of discretionary time increases. Employees working in an organization that offers a flextime schedule can more easily respond to work and nonwork conflicts, which can subsequently reduce employee stress; the research has linked decreased employee stress to decreased absenteeism. Motivation to attend work may also be enhanced by increased organizational loyalty and job satisfaction, which result from the implementation of a flexible schedule. Furthermore, it has been suggested that employees may no longer misuse their sick leave because they can adjust their time of attendance. Empirical studies support the hypothesis that attendance is positively affected by the availability of a flextime schedule, and organizations have reported dramatic drops in absenteeism. In sum, research and theory support the assertion that the introduction of a flexible work schedule will lower absenteeism.

Using the job characteristics theory, it can also be hypothesized that the introduction of a flextime schedule should lead to more positive job attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction). For example, employees’ need for autonomy can be met by the introduction of a flextime work schedule; indeed, research has found that increased job autonomy is positively linked to job satisfaction. In sum, the introduction of a flextime work schedule can be expected to lead to increased job satisfaction and, more specifically, to satisfaction with one’s work schedule.

Review of Flexible Work Schedule Research

Two comprehensive examinations of the flextime literature have been conducted. These narrative reviews concluded that the introduction of flextime work schedules has a consistent and almost exclusively positive effect on work-related attitudes and productivity. However, the effect of flextime schedules reported in the literature is still highly variable and ranges from little or no to substantial positive change. A quantitative review of the literature (i.e., meta-analysis) found that flexible work schedules have positive effects on employee productivity, job satisfaction, satisfaction with work schedule, and employee absenteeism. However, the size of these effects is significantly different from one variable to the next. For example, the effect associated with absenteeism is significantly larger than that for productivity, and the smallest effects are seen for job satisfaction and for satisfaction with work schedule. This result is consistent with the hypothesis that flexible work schedules are more likely to influence attendance and retention than to directly affect worker effectiveness and attitudes.

The mixed results in the literature may point to the existence of factors that moderate the relationship between flexible work schedules and outcome measures. The same quantitative review mentioned found that several moderators exist. Specifically, flextime work schedules demonstrate positive effects on work-related outcome criteria for general employees, but they have no effect for professionals and managers. This finding suggests that alternative work schedules are unlikely to benefit those who already have a high degree of job autonomy. Flextime flexibility (measured by core hours) was also found to moderate the positive effects of flexible work schedules—that is, the positive effects seem to diminish as the number of core hours becomes smaller. This finding indicates that the positive outcomes expected from a highly flexible schedule may be offset by the extra control required to monitor the number of hours that employees work. Furthermore, it is possible that the increased flexibility may become more of an inconvenience for employees than a benefit. The meta-analysis also found that over time, the positive effects of flexible work schedules diminish.

Other research has found that employees’ level of role conflict—that is, competing requirements between two roles, such as being an employee and a mother—also acts as a moderator and affects the way that individuals respond or are attracted to companies that offer flexible work schedules. Specifically, the study found that individuals with high role conflict are attracted to companies that offer flexible work schedules, but this is not the case for individuals with low role conflict. This suggests that individuals react differently to the introduction of a flexible work schedule, and this, in turn, affects the impact (on factors such as job satisfaction) that might be expected. For example, if an organization has many employees who do not experience role conflict, then the impact of a flexible work schedule would be expected to diminish.

Summary

The narrative and quantitative reviews of the literature indicate that flextime schedules have primarily positive effects on organizational outcomes. However, the literature also suggests that organizations will have varying degrees of success with flexible work schedules depending on the variables they are trying to influence (e.g., absenteeism versus productivity). Furthermore, organizations need to carefully examine the work that is being done by employees to determine the degree of interdependence among jobs. Offering too much flexibility to employees with highly interdependent jobs may lead to unexpected and unwelcome outcomes. Finally, the findings of the meta-analysis suggest that the positive effects of flexible work arrangements decrease over time; therefore, companies must realize that some of the benefits of flexible work schedules may be temporary.

References:

  1. Baltes, B. B., Briggs, T. E., Huff, J. W., Wright, J. A., & Neuman, G. A. (1999). Flexible and compressed workweek schedules: A meta-analysis of their effects on work-related criteria. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 496-513.
  2. Golembiewski, R. T., & Proehl, C. (1978). A survey of empirical literature on flexible workhours: Character and consequences of a major innovation. Academy of Management Review, 3, 837-853.
  3. Pierce, J. L., Newstrom, J. W., Dunham, R. B., & Barber, A. E. (1989). Alternative workschedules. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  4. Rau, B. L., & Hyland, M. M. (2002). Role conflict and flexible work arrangements: The effects on applicant attraction. Personnel Psychology, 55, 111-136.
  5. Thierry, H., & Meijman, T. (1994). Time and behavior at work. In H. C. Triandis, M. D. Dunnette, & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 4, 2nd ed., pp. 341-413). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

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