Flex Schedules Can Balance Work, Home Time

Most companies that offer family friendly benefits don't do so because it's nice and charitable. They implement such programs because it makes smart business sense. Those employers know that offering flexibility helps companies to recruit and retain the best talent. They also know it helps improve productivity because every study shows that people are generally happier with their work when they receive such accommodations.

More and more companies recognize this bottom-line benefit, and they're studying -- and in some cases taking the lead from -- the best practices of top employers. In 1999 only 18 companies on Fortune magazine's list of Best Places to Work offered telecommuting. Today, 79 do. That's progress!

There's more good news, but also some discouraging bits too:

Unfortunately, many managers still place the ultimate premium on face time. They believe that productivity is measured by hours in the office. There is also a notion in the workplace that when a woman says she wants flexibility, it's really code for her wanting to come in at 10 and leave at 2. Wrong. That's not what most women want or need, and yet such stereotypical views do little to help us achieve our goals.

On the flip side, flexibility in the workplace now comes in many forms, which means that many of us can ask for and receive some type of accommodation. The first step is figuring out what the options may be for. Keep in mind that not every position lends itself to one definition of flexibility, so even if you desire a specific accommodation, it might not be possible in your line of work.

Here are several scenarios to consider:

Condensed work week. If your standard week is 40 hours -- typically broken into five days, eight hours per day -- could you perform your position in four days at 10 hours per day? Even if this isn't possible every single week, you might convince your boss to consider it even just once or twice a month, which would give you a free weekday to tend to personal and family needs. Telecommuting. Instead of reporting for duty to your employer's offices all five days a week, can your position be performed from your home one or two days a week? This would require you to have -- or your employer to provide -- whatever equipment and supplies are needed for your job, including dedicated phone line, computer, high speed Internet access and so forth This eliminates a commute and typically leads to increased productivity among already-motivated employees.

If you're easily distracted or you don't have dedicated space in which to work from, this might not be a viable option. Many employers won't allow this type of arrangement if you're using it in lieu of baby-sitting services. They want to ensure that you're putting in your full hours even from home.

Vacation by the hour. Even though it's more difficult to keep track of time used, some employers are starting to allow workers to use their allotted vacation time by the hour instead of by the day. This enables working parents to attend school functions or doctor's appointments without missing a full day of work. The benefit to employers is better productivity -- more work gets done if an employee is present for part of the day than not at all. In other cases, employers sometimes allow staffers to convert unused sick days into vacation days.

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