United States: Implementing An Alternative Work Arrangement Policy? Keep Supervisors In The Loop

Today, 70% of mothers and 94% of fathers with children under the age of 18 are working in the United States, and nearly 60% of families in the United States contain two working parents. It comes as no surprise, then, that the number of employees seeking out and taking advantage of flexible working arrangements is growing.

Indeed, a quick review of FORTUNE Magazine's 2014 list of America's top 100 employers confirms that employees value flexible working arrangements.  In fact, in some jurisdictions, the law now requires an employer to consider an employee's request for a flexible working arrangement.  Thus, alternative working arrangement policies can prove valuable for employers hoping to attract talented employees.

Without careful implementation, however, such policies can also potentially lead to negative consequences, including hostility and even, in some circumstances, unintended discrimination.

Take, for example, a new mother returning from maternity leave on a reduced work schedule. Before her maternity leave, she worked full-time.  Now, invoking her employer's new flexible work schedule policy, she expects to work 60% of her former schedule, with a corresponding reduction in her salary.  Per her employer's policy, she has notified the human resources department of her desire to return on a reduced schedule, and the human resources department, in turn, has approved that schedule.

So far, so good.

The problem is that neither the employee nor the human resources department has adequately communicated the details of the employer's new flexible work schedule policy or the employee's new schedule to her supervisor, who began working for the employer long before such policies existed and grew used to the employee's presence in the office five days each week, at least eight hours each day before she went out on maternity leave.  Because that supervisor has not adjusted his or her expectations to fit the employee's new schedule, the employee finds herself working 100% of her old schedule for only 60% of her old salary — and therefore only earning 60% of what her full-time co-workers are earning for doing the same job.

When the employee pushes back against her supervisor's full-time work demands, her supervisor thinks she is not working hard enough; when the employee keeps her mouth shut and works full-time hours for part-time pay, she grows resentful of her employer.  All of a sudden, a policy that the employer created to help its employees who are working parents has made balancing work and family even more difficult for them.

How to avoid this problem?  The same way employers can avoid most other human resources issues:  communication.

When an employee who once worked full-time requests a new reduced schedule, it should prove helpful to do the following:

  • Ask that employee to list all of the supervisors and/or managers for whom he or she performs work or expects to perform work in the future.  Employees who perform work for multiple supervisors are particularly susceptible to unreasonable demands on their time.
  • Notify those supervisors and managers of the employee's new schedule and ensure that they understand the details of the employer's reduced schedule or alternative work arrangement policy.  Don't leave it up to the employee to explain it.
  • Follow up:  Check in with both the employee and his or her supervisors periodically to determine whether the reduced schedule is working for both parties.  Some issues to look out for:
  • Is the employee still working full-time despite your best efforts to communicate her new schedule?  Adjust her status and salary accordingly.
  • Has his supervisor, who initially was respectful of the employee's hours, forgotten to do so as the department has grown busier?  Gently remind her of the employee's schedule.
  • Is the department unable to meet the demands of its customers/patients/clients without the full-time assistance of the employee?  Consider whether you need to hire someone new.
  • Encourage feedback.  Make sure your employees know who they should notify if they have issues with their schedules or your flex-time policies.

Successful implementation of a flexible work arrangement policy requires both the employee who is using it and his or her supervisor to reflect periodically on their expectations and communicate those expectations to each other and the human resources department.  With adequate communication, however, your flex-time policy should remain an asset that attracts and assists your company's great employees — and just might help get you on the next list of America's top employers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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