Flex Time

Dear Management Doctor:

I have been receiving your good advice on many topics through your emailed newsletters.

I have come across a request to help design a flex time policy for my new employer in New Mexico. If you could direct me to some resources, it would be most appreciated.

Thanks in advance,

Paul Howard, AICP
Doña Ana County, Las Cruces, NM

Dear Paul,

I would start by looking at the search engine on our website (click here). Look under "F" for flex time and you will see these three articles:

  • A Saner Workplace
  • Alternative Work Schedules (some very good material here with real world examples)
  • For Generations Xers, What Counts Isn't All Work Or All Play
You will see not only some of my thoughts but those of our many emailers as well.

Also, try putting in Flex Time on Google and you will get lots of tips. I haven't read it but the first one that comes up is a book, Part Time Proposal, $29.95, that sounds very useful.

All of this material should get you on your way. I would repeat or add a few cautions:

  1. You may have some positions where flex time will simply not work. These may be your public contact positions. Make certain in your policy that these are spelled out.
  2. One of the biggest problems with flex time is that many managers simply don't manage well enough to handle it. This will be tough to identify in any policy but is real. Flex time implies that you manage for results, not the hours on the job.
  3. Only those employees who accept the mission, vision and values of the organization should be allowed flex time. Again, this would be hard to put in a policy. If an employee needs to be micro-managed, they are not a good candidate for flex time. The only way I can think of to handle this is to allow each manager the authority to approve or not approve. It will put pressure on the managers to get their act together.
  4. If flex time is used for having a day off or 9 by 9 schedules, have everyone take the same day off if possible. Virtually close the office on that day.
  5. As far as daily flex time, it is tougher for people who have to handle things like the counter. It should be easier for planners who have lots of night meetings.
  6. I am working with an organization now where one of the managers always comes in late and leaves right at 5. This person should not be a candidate for flex time, until they prove they can even handle a normal schedule.
Even with all these cautions, I am still a big advocate of flex time. In my office we have no hours, we just manage to results.

The Management Doctor 

p.s. If you by the book, let me know if it is any good.

Reader Responses

I came from an organization where the planners were typically on flex time and it worked out very well. The only challenge at times came if we went out to lunch for an hour where some of them were on a half-hour lunch schedule and then had to make up the difference with added work time or use comp time. We have discontinued the practice in my current Department as we are getting into 15 days of furlough this fiscal year and it will create too many holes in staff backing each other up.

Art Henriques
San Benito County Planning & Building, CA

I proposed and implemented a flex schedule in our office about 3 years ago, which has worked great. We have an office of about 17 people, all of whom work 9 hour days with every other Friday off (except our receptionist who works 5 days a week). We split our employees into 2 different teams, with each team taking a different Friday off. This enables us to maintain coverage 5 days a week. Our office is open 8:00 to 5:00, which is 9 hours, so people can just work right through lunch, or they can show up early or stay late to cover the time if they take a lunch.

Regarding holidays, if your scheduled Friday off falls on a holiday, you get the day before (Thursday) off. If a holiday falls on a day other than Friday, which is an 8-hour day, then the employee must keep track of making up that extra hour somewhere within the pay period, since they got paid for an 8-hour day off, but really took a 9-hour day off. We did find that with every other Friday off, it so happens that one group would continually get a majority of the holidays as 3-day weekends, so we switch the Fridays every year, letting employees choose which Fridays they want off in August (which is when we implemented the flex schedule) on a first-come, first-served basis. Then in September we officially switch, so the group that didn't get Labor day last year as a 4-day weekend gets it this year and so on. As I said earlier, it works out great, saves energy both in the office and in transportation, and it makes Fridays, a typically slow day, very productive since there are so few of us in the office and there tends to be fewer interruptions.

As far as scheduling doctor's appointments, etc. on the flex day off, not all offices here in our small town are open on Fridays, and people do have sick leave they are permitted to take for appointments that occur during their scheduled work days, so that has been a non-issue. We are all professionals, and there has been no abuse of the system in the three years we have been utilizing flex time. We all understand it is a privilege, not a right, and would never want to jeopardize the great situation we have for ourselves or anyone else.

Susan Johnson
Teton County Planning and Development, WY

Paul, I rarely disagree with you, but on the suggestion that everyone take the same day off, I believe there are better alternatives. One of the factors in flex time for a public agency is that the public still has expectations that we are there to serve them. I became a believer in the 9x9 schedule over 4x10 through a lot of experimentation. I agree with all your caveats, but even with a small staff, the both can work, it’s just that the 9x9 is easier to manage with a small staff.

To implement, the first step is to check with HR to ensure there are no employee union issues. Some employee contracts may have provisions requiring overtime at more than eight hours per day. This is unusual, but it can be there. Also, some jurisdictions adopt some or all personnel rules as an ordinance. If so, the ordinance may need to be amende - even for an experiment.

Any experiment should be for at least one year. Any less does not allow an opportunity to see how the system works with holidays and vacations.

Now, back to the coverage part. At a minimum, the office should be maintaining the same public access hours. In the system I used, we extended office hours. It’s not something I wanted to do, but it was the only way to sell it to the Council. The ideal situation is to maintain the same hours, but have an hour or so a day with no interruptions.

As a manager, it becomes crucial that each team member have a back-stop. There needs to be at least one other person with some familiarity with all projects so that an information request doesn’t get a “no one here can help you” response. We used the counter planners as the back-stops. Oh, one other management change made was that all planners, including the Director, had to do at least four hours counter work each week. That helped coverage, and ensured that all of us remembered for whom we are writing staff reports. In one of my early stints, I was embarrassed to find that I forgot I had okayed a change in some procedures, and wrongly implemented a wrong procedure -once.

Planners covering night meetings and earning over- or comp-time were scheduled to come in late the day after the meeting (or day of, depending on necessity). Overtime was cut 90% and comp-time virtually eliminated. From a management perspective, this is good.

One of the problem issues that arose over time is some employees scheduling non-emergency or non-urgent doctor appointments on work days instead of on their scheduled day off. This is inherently unfair to the rest of the team. Something to make clear in the beginning – and in written policy – is that flex time is a revocable privilege, and the day off is not to be treated as exclusively a “play day.” Make it clear that an expectation of flex time is that non-emergency or urgent appointments should be set on the day off. There are very few reasons that someone can’t schedule appointments for annual physicals, dental cleanings, or eye exams on the scheduled day off. Other team members will notice the abuse and either follow suit or complain.

The tough issue is when holidays fall on a team member’s day off. This usually is an HR issue. The jurisdiction for whom I worked basically said that it’s something that “evens out” over time, and paid the employee for the holiday, even if a 40-hour week had been worked. I have heard of other jurisdictions who give the holiday time as a “floating holiday.” If a team member is allowed to have a Monday as an “off day,” this is going to be an issue, so a manager needs to be prepared in advance on handling it. A private company of which I know would not pay an employee for the holiday if it were the employee’s regular day off. Deal with this up front and in writing. It can get really ugly when dealt on the fly.

Eric Jay Toll
Scottsdale, AZ

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