Flexible Workplace Options Help Balance Work and Home
Working hours and conditions have come a long way from the standard 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. day behind a desk. Innovative employers are implementing everything from self-scheduling work programs to on-site fitness centers, making it possible for employees to better integrate work and personal lives.
The result is often healthier, happier employees who are less stressed and feel more in control of their lives. At work, they are more productive and focused.
Dean Debman, CEO of Workplace Options in Raleigh, says workplaces have undergone an "incredible revolution" in the past 30 years as employers have looked for ways to make employees' lives better and increase their work efficiency. Workplace Options provides employee effectiveness services.
"You may be at work, but how present are you really?" Debman asks. "Are you really there and focused on your job, or are you distracted and thinking about something else?"
Flexible scheduling allows employees to better take care of their personal lives. This may mean an employee takes longer lunch breaks, completes a workweek in four 10-hour days or occasionally works from home. Flexible hours create time for things that don't fit into rigid work schedules, such as attending a child's school play or going to a mid-morning dentist appointment.
Improve healthy habits
Research finds that flex time also motivates employees to adopt better health practices. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota, for example, found that many employees who were given more flexibility with their schedules got more sleep, were more likely to visit doctors when they were sick and reported less emotional distress.
Novant Health, a company based in Winston-Salem with a workforce of 25,000, offers a slate of programs that encourage employees to stay healthy and focused, whether they are at work or home. One of the most significant changes the company has implemented in the past few years is allowing employees to self-schedule their time electronically.
Employees can choose shifts, trade shifts and offer shifts to other employees if they can't work. They also can select set schedules for weekend or weekday working hours.
"It is a huge employee pleaser," says Ninette McKinney, vice president of human resources shared services for Novant Health. "If you give the employee more empowerment over when they work, then you have an employee who is better able to integrate work and life."
When employees are well-rested, unstressed and feel as if they have control over their lives, they are more likely to be focused and productive at work.
Debman says employers can implement easy changes that could make a big impact on employees' lives.
"They can listen to their employees and hear what their employees' needs and concerns are," he says. "All they have to do (many times) is slightly change a work schedule or, on some days, let them come in early or stay late."
Use time wisely
One downside of flex time is that it can be easily whittled away. If an employee doesn't have a good handle on how to manage time and choices, a flexible schedule won't be as helpful, says Bob DeMers, founder and principal of Coaching Works in Huntersville.
"They really need to sit down and identify important goals," he says. "What is it they want to accomplish with this extra time?"
DeMers encourages clients to look at big and small priorities and choices while figuring out how to manage their time.
He suggests making the time to formulate a vision for your life and work. If you aren't clear about the "big things," the little things will take over, DeMers says.
"Appointments, shopping trips, picking up kids — line all of the ducks up in a row from a logistical perspective," DeMers says. "Not only does it save gas, but it frees up time for more important pursuits."
Marty Minchin is a mother of two and freelance writer in Charlotte.
Making the Most of Flex Time
- Plan your free time. Make lists of what you need to do, including errands and phone calls, so you aren't scrambling during work or after hours to get things done.
- Consolidate errands. Map out where you need to go so you best conserve time and gas. Avoid rush hour whenever possible to reduce stress.
- Condense your workweek. Talk to your boss about working four 10-hour days or four-and-a half nine-hour days so you have at least half a weekday for errands and appointments and can free up more time on the weekends.
- Make free time purposeful. Carve out time for yourself. Want to get in shape? Make time for the gym. Yearning to get more involved in the community? Find a volunteer opening during a long lunch hour.
- Take advantage of your employer's wellness benefits. You may be surprised at what your company offers, whether it's free financial counseling or a weekly farmers market in the parking lot.