Workplace Diversity

Essay by PixieGiniUniversity, Bachelor's March 2002

download word file, 8 pages 4.7 2 reviews

Needs, values and priorities of employees and employers have changed dramatically over the last decade. On all rungs of the corporate ladder, men and women are seeking new ways to manage the time they spend working so they can spend more time living. In the boardrooms, executives are seeking ways to attract - and retain - the best employees so they can continue to survive and thrive in a highly competitive global economy.

Interestingly enough, solutions to the changing needs and priorities of both groups are being found in the same place: flexible work arrangements are proving to be a win-win strategy in today's leading-edge organizations.

The 1990's have witnessed dramatic change in the attitude of corporate America regarding flexible work arrangements. Once used as an ad hoc response to individual employees' needs, companies have begun to realize they can use flexibility as a cost-effective strategy to accomplish business goals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of US workers work other than a 5-day, 40-hour week and nationwide, about 12 million full-time workers have flexible work schedules. In a 1998 Families and Work Institute Business Work/Life Study, most of the 1000 participating companies reported that FWAs had a positive return on investment (46%) or were cost neutral (36%), while only 18% believed the costs of FWAs outweighed the benefits.

Many companies are beginning to recognize the value of workplace flexibility, and see it as the way work needs to be done in an information age. A 1991 Catalyst study found that since 1989, most of the 70 participating large companies had expanded the number of employees using flexible work arrangements and had formalized their initiatives. Many organizations have experimented with flexible work arrangements with positive results.

There are several aspects of flexible work arrangements:

FlexTime: Allows employees to take advantage of a range of starting and ending times for the work day.

FlexPlace (or Telecommuting): Enables employees to work from a different location - such as home or another facility. For this arrangement to be successful, the employee must demonstrate an ability to work independently. Job responsibilities must also allow for the employee to spend time away from the office. The amount of time worked off site can vary, from a few hours a week to a full five day work week schedule.

Compressed Work Schedule: Enables employees to perform their full-time job in less than a customary work week. Examples of compressed work schedules could include: working four days out of a customary five-day week, or working nine days out of ten in a two-week schedule. For this arrangement to be successful, the employee must have the stamina to work long hours.

Job Sharing: An option that allows two people to share the responsibilities of one full-time position. This option often comes into play when a company wishes to keep valued employees who seek reduced hours but holds a job requiring full-time coverage.

It may be possible to create a flexible work arrangement using a combination of options (i.e., an employee may be able to work a compressed work schedule and also one day from home). Also, some flexible work arrangements might be initiated by individual employees, a group or work unit, or the manager might suggest that for business reasons a particular option be implemented. Whatever the arrangement, Human Resources should be consulted to provide practical advice and ensure consistency.

Research and experience has documented that:

Flexibility protects the company's investment in good workers.

When a company loses good employees, it not only loses the investment it has made in that individual, it also incurs additional costs of downtime and recruitment. The changing values and priorities of the workforce have made quality of life an important issue. There is strong evidence that companies can retain good workers by offering flexibility.

Flexibility helps gain a recruitment edge in a tight labor market.

How workers feel is more important to employers in a tight labor market. Today, workers who have the skills and competencies many employers are seeking place high value on having personal time available and control over when they take it. In order to attract those workers, organizations are being forced to change. Much of that change focuses around issues of time. Advertising the availability of flexible work arrangements like job sharing, flextime or telecommuting increases the number and quality of candidates that respond.

Flexibility may improve the link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

More and more companies have been measuring the link between employee satisfaction and the bottom line and finding that employee attitudes drive customer service satisfaction and revenue.

Flexibility reduces office space and overhead expenses.

Working off-site, in less expensive satellite centers or in shared office space (such as a -"virtual office" or a "hotel" facility) can reduce the need for high-priced office space. Extending hours through compressed work scheduling, job sharing and part-time employees also means expanded use of expensive equipment, providing a greater return on investment.

Flexibility improves coverage.

Flexible schedules and new forms of part-time work let companies redesign schedules for positions or work units that need broader or more intensive coverage. By overlapping their schedules, job sharers can provide double coverage during peak periods of activity. A combination of full and part-time employees will give employers more staffing options, particularly if the workflow or demand for service is uneven.

Flexibility helps upgrade and expand employee skills.

Allowing a full-time employee to reduce his/her work schedule can provide another employee with an opportunity to work in that job part-time and learn new skills. Sabbaticals help enrich a worker's skill level by providing opportunities for cross-training or on-going education. For example, at American Savings and Loan in Palo Alto, CA, a vice president of human resources opted to job share with a lower-level employee who will eventually move up to VP status.

Flexibility retains older workers' skills and experience.

Many firms are experiencing "brain drains" as a result of early retirement programs. Polls indicate that a significant number of older workers would continue if they could do so on a part-time basis.

Flexibility improves productivity, morale, commitment and quality of work.

Despite widespread fear that flexibility would hinder productivity, there is growing evidence that the opposite is true. Most studies report no fall-off, and even an increase in productivity when flexible work arrangements are used properly. In general, productivity improvements are credited to the higher energy that comes from reduced stress or better morale; improved quality of work; more focus on task rather than time; and extended service with the same number of employees.

Flexibility creates a more responsive organization.

Companies continually face challenges, be it a departmental "baby boomlet", recruitment for a particular job classification, or external pressures like the introduction of new technologies or the onset of a recession. Managers must be able to respond creatively with policies that are already in place before a crisis hits. Flexibility is imperative to success in the new millennium.

Companies today implement workplace flexibility to promote a motivated effective work force. In addition, today's workplace includes more dual-income families, singles and single parent families than ever before, so flexible work arrangements will allow companies to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse work force. In survey after survey, employees voice the same concerns: lack of time and flexibility and the inability to satisfactorily manage work and personal life responsibilities. While employees certainly are primarily responsible for resolving conflicts that may develop between work and personal lives, managers and employees should be encouraged to address these issues through the programs and policies that are part of the company.

Although many companies experience the benefits of telecommuting - lower real estate costs, reduced turnover, increased productivity and an increased ability to comply with workplace laws (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family Medical Leave Act) that require companies to accommodate their workers - growing pains persist, some experts say. And both the benefits and disadvantages of the work option are difficult to measure with certainty.

A study of employees and managers by Boston College's Center for Work & Family in Chestnut Hill, Mass., found that telecommuting can present serious disadvantages. The study found that telecommuters work more, rate their work/life balance and life satisfaction significantly lower, believe they have worse relationships with their managers and co-workers, and are less committed to their jobs. Telecommuting also causes more stress than other types of flexible work arrangements, such as daily flextime, the study found.

Many companies are shying away from flextime because they are concerned about possible legal pitfalls. Flexible work arrangements can be affected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, workers' compensation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and even anti-discrimination laws. Companies that ignore these issues do so at a considerable risk.

There is, of course, no law demanding that a company must offer employees flexible work arrangements. FlexPlace is a concept, not a policy or program. If it is to be successful, it takes the cooperation of all parties - manager, employee, co-worker and the company. A FlexPlace arrangement requires self-discipline on the part of the employee and on-going communication between the employee and his/her manager. It requires a great deal of trust between manager and employee, as the manager cannot "observe" daily work being completed and requires managers to evaluate the results, not the work process.

Once a flexible program has been established, it is important for a company to know the differences of rules for non-exempt and exempt employees. The basic rule impending non-exempt employees from using flexible scheduling is the fact that these employees are bound to a 40-hour workweek. For every hour they work beyond that, they must be paid at least one and a half times their regular pay. "Almost any problem you care to trace with flexible workweeks for a non-exempt can be traced to the application of that seemingly simple rule," says Dave Dabbs, a labor attorney in the Richmond, Virginia, office of McGuire Woods LLP.

Exempt employees present a different set of problems, because they must be compensated on a salary basis. Their earnings are based on the quality of their work rather than the hours. You cannot track the hours worked by exempts or place these employees on a specific flexible schedule. To do so implies the employees are actually non-exempt, and that can spell big trouble. It is important to ensure the company policy does not contain language implying a salaried employee may be docked wages in exchange for days off.

Many HR professionals have concerns about telecommuting complications resulting from OSHA. OSHA had suggested the idea of at-home inspections last year, but decided to focus these inspections only on employees who are doing productive piecework or constructing widgets.

Workers' compensation issues are currently under review and resolution. What happens if a telecommuting employee falls down while walking to the door to sign for a package? If the package is from work, it is most likely a workers' compensation injury. However, if the package was personal it probably wouldn't be covered. The main question to ask is if the employee was actually doing work when injured.

Is telecommuting a trend on the rise, or a trend in decline? Data support either view. One on hand....half of 648 employers surveyed last year by online career network CareerEngine Inc. offered telecommuting, but 62 percent were thinking of reducing the practice - and 21 percent wanted to phase it out completely. But, on the other a 2000 survey of 769 HR professionals by Lee Hecht Harrison, a career services firm in Woodcliff Lake, NJ, 90 percent of respondents viewed telecommuting as a growing trend. Only 8 percent thought the trend had leveled off, and only 2 percent believed it was not as popular as it used to be.

Several factors are widely associated with giving added significance to organizational flexibility - in particular, greater market uncertainty and changes in technology and production processes. In considering the future of flexibility, it is evident that various difficulties and unanswered questions sustaining high quality output, it must look at reciprocity over flexibility. In the past the flexibility agenda has tended to be defined by management, but in the longer term flexibility is only likely to be sustained if management take account of employee interests as well as its own objectives. Giving employees the flexibility to choose their hours, or take time in lieu are options well worth considering, in order to protect the companies most important asset - the employees health and well-being.