Over the holiday period several young career women were complaining about problems with work and family life. Their major concerns surround the challenges of balancing their time with their children and spouse and the demands for high performance in the workplace. They also voiced concerns about management’s lack of apparent support for their cause.
One female even spoke of a situation in her office regarding the poor managing of alternative work arrangements which occurred during the past year. She recalled that her grandmother had fallen ill and since she was the only grandchild on the island her (the grandmother’s) welfare became her sole responsibility. Her job was one that primarily dealt with online clients so she suggested to her boss that given her situation she would like to be able to work from at home doing what North Americans call “telecommuting”.
Another employee mentioned something similar but in this case it was the birth of a special needs child where she requested to be allowed to report for work very early and leave around 3 p.m. to collect the child from the care giver.
In both cases, the manager appeared to be unsure about what action to take and hence opted to do nothing so they eventually resigned from the organisation. Given this scenario, the article this week is about managing alternative workplace arrangements.
The whole issue of managing alternative workplace arrangements comes under the ambit of motivating employees by redesigning their jobs. Some of the strategies utilised involve the use of flextime (flexitime), job sharing and telecommuting (Robbins and Judge, 2011).
Let us look at flexitime, it is another name for “flexible work time” and occurs when an employee is allowed to vary his or her work hours. In others words, an employee may be allowed a specific number of hours per week, however these hours have certain restrictions.
For instance, if an organisation’s main purpose was attending to clients between the core hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and client preparation time took another two to three hours, then the flexible work arrangements could range from around 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is important that management has a good understanding of the demands of their business in order for this to work effectively.
Take for instance, the banking sector, they would have to consider another arrangement for Fridays which is culturally the busiest day of the week for them. This would ensure that there is enough available manpower during this time. With this schedule, employees could work from 6 a.m. until 6 pm. where they can choose to work from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. or from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. (Robbins and Judge, 2011).
The second strategy that can be used is job sharing. This is where a job is split between two employees. For instance, one may report to work from 6 a.m. until noon while the other works from noon until 6 p.m. Another method of job sharing is having two employees work alternate days of the week.
The third strategy is telecommuting, which is working at home on a computer that is linked to the office for at least two or three days per week. Another description of this strategy is “the virtual office” and refers to working from at home on a regular basis (Robbins and Judge, 2011).
We all know every strategy has advantages and disadvantages, so let us take a look at the disadvantages. In the case of flexitime it could fail miserably if employees are not included in the decisions surrounding this type of work arrangement. For instance, management must be sensitive to the various work-time preferences of their employees. In making arrangements like this, persons must be consulted and a trial period should be used to determine how effective these arrangements would be to the organisation. In addition, personality problems can arise if employees who prefer morning hours are asked to work evenings and vice versa (Robbins and Judge, 2011).
Finally, the culture of the organisation may present some obstacles to the telecommuting and job sharing ventures. This is mainly because we in the Caribbean have embraced a culture that does not include employees in discussions that have a major impact on them. Moreover, several managers were trained by leaders who previously practised the autocratic style of leadership within very rigid organisational structures.
In addition, managers and supervisors may find the inability to closely supervise an employee who prefers telecommuting for instance, a bit challenging to coordinate their work tasks. Furthermore, job sharing may present some difficulties since it often presents issues of commitment to the job and locating employees who work well together.
There are some who believe that our historical origins underpin our current culture of telling and giving instructions instead of including others in the decision-making process. This is probably why some employees think that they should not be included in this process and may say things like you are the boss so tell me what to do.
This situation often leaves the boss to make decisions that do not reflect the wishes of the majority of employees and, may often end in conflict as employees may not like the final outcome. Furthermore, some alternative workplace arrangements are not suited to every type of job or personality type. For example, it is not suited for the job of receptionist or individuals who like interacting with others in the organisation.
Despite the disadvantages there are several advantages. For instance, management experts have argued that flexitime tends to reduce absenteeism and hence improves the productivity of employees. Companies that introduce this type of alternative work arrangement have found that employees recorded a reduced level of tardiness and overtime expense.
In the case of job sharing, employees who participate in this kind of arrangement have reported that they are better able to balance work and family life resulting in increased job satisfaction.
Finally, research has revealed that employees who telecommute have shown higher levels of productivity than ordinary office staff and the loss of personnel overtime is smaller. Although job sharing has its challenges, the opportunity to use two heads as opposed to one can be beneficial, especially in organisations that hire retired workers or young people now entering the world of work (Robbins and Judge, 2011).
So to those managers who are causing brain drain in their organisation, I would suggest that you do some research on how to utilise alternative workplace arrangements rather than lose valuable employees. Moreover, if they do the maths it would be more costly for the organisation if they lose bright young people to other firms that are not afraid to change their work arrangements. Until next time…
* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: (246) 436-4215