Scheduling and Workplace Flexibility

office chairMany discussions at last week’s #KronosWorks conference centered around a component of workplace flexibility that often causes HR professionals and organizational leaders to break out in a sweat, envision a painful )and potentially futile) change management process, and mutter “something like that will never work here.”


That’s a pretty basic building block of workforce management, isn’t it? It’s also a key driver of human satisfaction in the employee/employer relationship.

Think about it. So often when HR thought leaders pundits espouse on the merits and benefits of workplace flexibility the mantra is often “today we need to let people work wherever and whenever they want as long as the job gets done.” Or “work is no longer a place you go.” Or “if you insist on making employees come to an office then implement activity-based working (ABW) to increase engagement.” 

It’s the wave of the future, they tell us. It’s the new way of working. If you have any hope, so they say, of hiring and retaining the best and brightest you just simply must allow people to work how/when/where they wish.

That’s all fine and dandy when the conversations are about high growth tech companies or nimble organizations filled with ranks of knowledge workers. The reality though is that most every organization has non-exempt employees who must not only track their hours (“Carrie! Don’t forget to punch in and punch out!”) but are often the front-line folks answering the phone, making the donuts, manning the reception desk, or handling transactions face to face with customers. “There must be coverage” is a phrase that, over the years, I’ve heard flow from the lips of numerous managers and executives.

And it’s true isn’t it?

In order for all those Java Developers and Marketing Specialists (who can work how/when/where they wish) to enjoy an extended Thanksgiving holiday later this week, scores of retail and hospitality workers must drive to their places of employment. Physicians, nurses and medical personnel will be on the job. Police officers and firefighters will be clocking in. Production workers and engineers will report to work at plants and refineries (certainly here in south Louisiana) with hard hats and safety gear in hand.

One of the biggest challenges faced by organizations is finding a way to provide flexibility for many of these (often overlooked) workers and it was a topic I heard addressed quite often during the course of KronosWorks. We launched right into it during the opening session when one Kronos’ customers, Macy’s, described how they addressed this very issue for associates at stores and distribution centers across the entirety of the organization. It was a business solution, of course, to more effectively utilize time and resources and remove the administrative burden from supervisors and store managers. However, more importantly, the HR leader from Macy’s pointed out that data showed that the primary reason for turnover in their organization, as cited by departing hourly workers, was dissatisfaction with scheduling.

I’m not surprised.

I’ve worked in manufacturing environments, hospitality, and health care and I can attest that managers (without exception) found scheduling very labor intensive. In addition, many employees were often frustrated by their inability to successfully navigate shift swaps, schedule time off for personal business, or adjust their start and stop times.

There are, however, a number of organizations that are successfully navigating this terrain. Check out the great ideas at “When Work Works” (a partnership between the Families and Work Institute and SHRM), including those found in the “Workflex and Manufacturing Guide.” Here’s a good example:

“After Kraft Foods found that hourly workers in manufacturing plants were the least satisfied of all employee groups with work/life integration, the company created a program to reinvent its vacation policies. The program changed such policies as requiring production employees to take vacation in one-week increments and to use vacation time to address even issues that would require only a few hours. Instead of using vacation time in large chunks, employees were allowed to take vacation in one day increments and use shift swapping to address schedule conflicts of just a few hours.”

Can technology assist in the switch to scheduling flexibility? Most assuredly; I saw some pretty nifty demos of the Kronos scheduling solutions at the conference.

But launching a workflex process/initiative – designed to solve problems and increase effectiveness and efficiency – is about more than hitting the “submit” button on a new tool or technology of course. It’s a philosophical approach and understanding that workplace flexibility is “A dynamic partnership between employers and employees that defines how, when and where work gets done in ways that work for all (employers, employees, families, clients, & communities).”

That’s a definition from the Families and Work Institute. I like it.

And it’s what happens When Work Works.


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