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How to Make Alternative Arrangements Work for Your Employees

In theory, alternate work arrangements offer a win-win situation for you and your employees. Many studies have shown that flexible scheduling policies improve morale and job satisfaction, reduce absenteeism, cut down on turnover and minimize burnout — and with no measurable decline in productivity.

The downside is that these arrangements don’t work for every company or for every position. An effective alternate work arrangement is dependent on the company’s commitment to support such an arrangement, in addition to the nature of the work and the employee. So, the practices may have to be carefully implemented with some legally sound ground rules.

In addition, instituting a policy of alternate work arrangements involves a good deal more than simply giving your employees a broader selection of scheduling options. The process needs to be carefully thought out. It must be implemented with consistency, patience, and discipline because you can easily ruin a good thing.

Be willing to rethink processes

Implementing a successful flexible work arrangement policy requires far more work than merely changing when jobs get done. More often than not, alternate work arrangement policies need to be accompanied by changes in how the work actually gets done and, in particular, how people are supervised.

So, when considering new work arrangements, think about this question first: How will the work itself be affected by the new scheduling? All subsequent decisions should be based on the answer to that question.

Establish guidelines

Flexible work arrangement policies don’t have to be set in stone. At the very least, though, you need a set of guidelines that serve as the basis of the program. Some specifics:

  • Make sure that the flexible work arrangement policies your company develops are logically keyed to the nature and demands of your business.

  • Be consistent. Decisions regarding flexible scheduling should be based on the nature of the job as opposed to the needs of the individual. You can certainly be lenient and take into account the special needs of employees, but you can sabotage a formalized flexible work arrangement policy by making too many exceptions.

  • Make sure that managers and supervisors have some say in policy development. Bear in mind that supervisors are always affected by the scheduling patterns of the people they manage.

  • Have clear employee eligibility guidelines in place, such as demonstrated work experience with little or no supervision, positive performance record, and tenure or experience in a job. It’s difficult to manage an employee remotely or working a flexible schedule who is not meeting performance expectations or needs constant supervision.

    Most new employees or those newer in their role need on-the-job training or mentoring to be able to fully perform. If they’re working from home, it may be too difficult to learn from others.

Consider phased retirement options

One option that’s become quite popular in recent years is the notion of a phased retirement, or allowing tenured employees to gradually ease their way out of the organization. Phased retirement gives your company the ability to retain the valuable institutional knowledge of long-standing employees that would otherwise walk out the door with them. It also provides a better means of transitioning job responsibilities.

In many cases, phased retirement simply means lowering an employee’s workload and training his replacement. But another approach is for the employee to technically retire and then continue to work for your firm on a contract or consulting basis.

Alternative arrangements can present new legal issues. Check with your legal counsel or state labor department to see whether flexible scheduling violates state or local laws and, in particular, how certain arrangements may affect overtime obligations. Also, employees who work at home for the majority of each workweek may need to receive notices and posters otherwise available only at the employer’s offices.

Get managerial buy-in

Regardless of how thrilled your employees may be with a flexible work arrangement, the policy itself will face rough sledding if it doesn’t have the enthusiastic support and involvement of both senior management and line supervisors.

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