How the Current Economy Could Affect the Future of Flextime

Flexible work schedules (aka “alternative work schedules” or “flextime schedules”) enable employees to work at varying times instead of the typical 9 to 5, 8-hour workday. This arrangement became popular as more career-women found they need some flexibility to deal with the hectic schedules of their families.  Not inclined to forego either, they forged the frontier of alternative schedules.  The future of flextime remains unclear.

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A few days ago, my colleague, Adria Martinelli, posted on the results of a recent survey (New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules), which indicate the decline of flexible work schedules.  The survey reflects statistics from the last 10 years and reflects employers of various sizes located across the country. 

Adria raised an excellent point–is the decline in alternative schedules linked to the sinking economy?  Certainly, one can imagine that, right or wrong, some employers may believe that it is more costly to employ workers on a flextime program. 

Historically, there has been a common theory that it was not profitable to use this model because of the cost of overhead per employee.  In other words, every employee, regardless of whether they work 60 or 28 hours per week still needs an office or workstation and are still entitled to benefits such as health care and employer-sponsored savings plans.  It was thought that the administrative costs incurred in running the business remained flat while the bottom line earnings of the company could decrease as more employees worked less time.

But what if the troubled economic times actually caused an increase in flextime or alternative working schedules?  As the cost of gasoline has risen, so has the cost of living.  The American workforce has had to become more and more cautious about their expenditures, some employees even taking second jobs to stay afloat in the rocky financial waters.

To cut the costs associated with the daily commute, employees have started carpooling, taking public transportation, and increasingly turned to more gas-efficient cars instead of the beloved SUV.  But what if these measures are not enough?  How many more alternatives can there really be for employees overwhelmed by the cost of fuel?

One idea that may surface in the not-so-distant future is an alternative work schedule.  A four-day workweek, where workers pack 10-hour workdays into the first four days of the week and have the fifth day off, could become a popular option for the cost-conscious commuter.

In that case, a flextime schedule would save travel time (as much as 2 hours a week for many employees who drive into a city from the suburbs), gas money, and would give them an opportunity to work on that “work-life balance” they’ve heard so much about. 

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