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How to Ensure Your Flexible Schedule Is a Blessing and Not a Curse


Whether you’re a working parent, a college student, or just someone who wants to avoid wasting hours in a standard 9-to-5 commute, being granted a flexible work schedule seems like a dream come true. However, what happens when your flex schedule results in more work and stress than you expected? Here’s how flex schedules can go wrong, and how to get them back on track.

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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army/Flickr)

The Changes in the American Household

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The dynamics of the American household have shifted greatly over the past couple of decades. More and more women have left their full-time domestic duties to pursue full-time careers. Unfortunately, this newly found freedom and independence didn’t come without its downfalls. Working women were now forced to juggle the demands of their 9-to-5 careers on top of household responsibilities, which created a great deal of stress and tension and resulted in many women sacrificing their careers to stay at home with the kids.

The Birth of Flexible Work Schedules

In an effort to keep employees happy and help them achieve work-life balance, employers began implementing flexible schedules that allowed for a bit more leniency to juggle the ins and outs of life. Employers began to see that giving workers the power and trust to dictate when and where they worked (as long as they were productive and met their deadlines) was also beneficial to their bottom lines. In fact, a 2014 report released by The Council of Economic Advisors, entitled Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility, reports that flexible schedules allow for the following benefits to employers:

  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Greater loyalty and commitment to employers
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Higher levels of worker engagement
  • Increased well-being
  • Decreased turnover
  • Improved productivity

The Darker Side of Flexible Work Schedules

Unfortunately, flex schedules aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. If an employer grants some employees flex schedules and not others, then the “others” may start to feel as though they’re getting the short end of the stick by not having the same freedom and flexibility as their “more favored” co-workers. Likewise, there’s the issue of those irresponsible workers who abuse their out-of-office schedules and fall behind in their work, only to pass it off to their subordinates or team members. There are also times when employer and employee aren’t clear about the special arrangements and one or both of the parties don’t fulfill their end of the bargain, and then the whole deal’s off.

A Real-World Example

In an Q&A article for The Telegraph, a reader writes in and explains that she is a lawyer who has been with her firm for five years, and she was granted a 3.5-day work week to spend more time with her children at home. Instead of feeling like she is having her cake and eating it, too, the reader admits that she feels as though she is “working almost full time […] but on much less pay,” causing her to feel that she has “only lost, not gained” from this special arrangement. What’s more, despite her performance consistently being highly rated, she noticed that her “career prospects have completely diminished,” too.

The author of the article, Louisa Symington-Mills, CEO of Cityparents, states that the reader’s situation is “all too common,” especially when “a part-time role is carved out of an existing full-time job, and where the scope of the new role isn’t fully redefined to suit the new hours and backed up by extra resource.”

Symington-Mills goes on to say that employers also need to do their fair share to empower employees and provide them the resources and support necessary to make these special arrangements work for everyone involved.

“Creating that empowerment means ensuring workers are satisfied, healthy, driven, and have the tools they need to fit their home and work lives together as they would like,” she says.

3 Ways to Make Flexible Schedules Work

In order for flex schedules to work, there needs to be a mutual understanding and respect between employer and employee.

1. Set realistic boundaries and stick to them.

Don’t expect to be granted a modified work schedule to sit on your butt and not pull your weight. In the same breath, you need to be clear with your employer on what is and isn’t realistic for you to accomplish after your new schedule is in place. If your flex schedule involves shorter hours, it will most likely require you to either complete your work in a shorter amount of time than you’re used to in the office. Regardless of how many hours you work, you’ll have to be able to work without the usual supervision of your boss … which brings me to my next point.

2. Manage your time more efficiently.

Working remotely means you have fewer eyes on you during the day, so you need to be responsible enough to manage your time to ensure your productivity remains the same. If you’re using your working hours to sit on the couch and watch your favorite series, then I can already tell you that your flexible work arrangement isn’t going to pan out well. Remember, a flex schedule is a privilege, not a right, so treat it as such.

3. Maintain open, honest communication at all times.

Things can get lost in translation when you’re not in the office and communicating through email, so be sure you have a system of constant communication with your team/boss at all times. If you need help or an issue arises, address it immediately before it turns into a more serious and severe problem. Also, there may be times where you need to accommodate your work’s schedule every now and again (e.g. to attend an important meeting or event in the office), so do your best to meet them halfway.

Flexible work schedules are intended to be win-win situations for employees and employers, not one or the other. Remember, communication is key, and trust is a must when it comes to making a flex schedule work.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a flexible schedule that works for you? If so, tell us what you do to keep it running smoothly and effectively. Share your story on Twitter, or leave a comment below. 

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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