FOR AND AGAINST

Flexible work schedule : Is it really beneficial?

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Légende: Recommendation of our expert

Expert adviser:

Marie-Hélène GILBERT, assistant professor, Management, Université Laval

Authors:

France ST-HILAIRE, associate professor, Human Resource Management, Université de Sherbrooke Maude VILLENEUVE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Stéphanie BÉRUBÉ, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Rébecca LEFEBVRE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Michel PÉRUSSE, adjunct professor, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

At work as in their personal lives, employees must do multiple tasks. Flexible work schedule is one form of support that some organizations offer to employees so they can better deal with the demands of both areas of their lives. But are flexible work schedule really beneficial? To answer this question, we did an interpretation of the Spieler and colleagues study published in 2017, whose objective was to better understand the influence of flexible work schedule on employees’ emotional well-being. The researchers studied two processes to meet the goal of better understanding the links between flexible work schedule and employees’ emotional well-being.

  • Permeability of boundaries between work and personal life =

degree of encroachment of personal life on work and vice versa

  • Achieving goals =

number of tasks done for work or personal life

The researchers sought to determine how flexible work schedule influence the permeability of boundaries between work and employees’ personal life as well as their level of emotional well-being. They also sought to discover the role of employees’ attaining of their goals in this relationship.

What do you mean by : Flexible work schedule?

Flexible work schedule refers to the decision latitude that employees use to manage their work schedule themselves. This can vary from a broad form to a more limited form.

Broad form Managing one’s schedule completely independently

Limited form Managing one’s schedule in a structured way

  • The employee chooses the time they arrive and the time they leave, depending on their needs.
  • The manager allows the employee to arrive and leave within a set time slot (e.g., between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m.).
  • The employee chooses their breaks.
  • The manager allows the employee to take their break based on a set time slot (e.g., from 10:00 to 10:15 a.m.).

Emotional well-being We talk about employees’ emotional well-being when their positive states (e.g., relaxed, calm or exhilarated) outweigh their negative states (e.g., nervous, angry or depressed).

What do the results of the study tell us?

METHOD The article presents the results of two studies.

Study 1

  • 150 employees
  • 75% were women
  • age: 40 years
  • Germany
  • Similar jobs within the same organization in the financial industry
  • Use of the same flexible work schedule policy

Study 2

  • 608 employees
  • 63% were women
  • age: 44 years
  • Germany
  • Various office jobs in different business sectors
  • Use of different flexible work schedule policies

For two consecutive workweeks, employees had to complete a daily questionnaire that allowed researchers to analyze the link between flexible work schedule and employees’ emotional well-being.

ARGUMENTS FOR FLEXIBLE WORK SCHEDULE

Boundary permeability and level of well-being According to studies 1 and 2, a flexible work schedule contributed :

  1. to employees’ work tasks encroaching less on those of their personal life;
  2. to a higher level of well-being experienced the same evening.

Interpretation Flexible work hours allowed employees to carry out a greater number of personal tasks compared to work-related tasks.

The family environment is particularly sensitive to work conflicts – personal life and protecting it seem more linked to employees’ emotional well-being.

Boundary permeability and level of well-being According to study 2 onlya flexible work schedule contributed :

  1. to personal life tasks encroaching less on work tasks;
  2. to a higher level of well-­‐being being experienced until the next day.

Interpretation The results of study 2 can be explained by:

  1. a sample composed of participants from various sectors with different flexible work hours policies;
  2. the varied nature of jobs, which can influence the increased use of flexible work schedule if work goals involve complex and lengthy projects.

Attaining goals According to studies 1 and 2 : occasional use of flexible work schedule allowed employees to carry out more personal tasks.

Interpretation Occasionally using flexible work schedule allows employees to reduce their work hours on certain days so they can do personal tasks.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST FLEXIBLE WORK SCHEDULE

Attaining goals According to studies 1 and 2an ongoing use of flexible work schedule

  1. did not allow employees to do more personal tasks than with occasional use; and
  2. ensured that employees did fewer work tasks.

Interpretation Because employees do not follow a set routine, ongoing use of flexible work schedule requires organizational skills and effective coordination with the people involved (e.g., manager, colleagues, family). In addition, it is possible that some employees had more personal tasks to do (e.g., being a caregiver), thus drawing on their energy level available for work tasks.

Because studies must always be interpreted with caution Only employees’ perceptions were used to measure the permeability of their boundaries between work and personal life, their level of emotional well-­‐ being and the attaining of their goals. The researchers suggest incorporating into future studies the perception of individuals involved (spouse, manager) as well as more objective measures (e.g., physiological measures, such as heart rates). In addition, researchers pointed out that it would be interesting to look into environmental practices of flexible schedules (teleworking) to measure the benefits. More variety in business sectors as well as in the culture of participants would also allow a greater generalization of results.

Actions for employers

What can organizations take from the results of this study?

Flexible work schedule is a beneficial practice for promoting boundaries between personal life and work as well as for increasing the emotional well-­‐being of your employees. To promote the attaining of work goals, your managers must demonstrate caution and encourage occasional rather than ongoing use of flexible work schedule.

HOW CAN YOU PROMOTE A FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE?

Action

  • Train your employees to set and achieve goals.

Follow-up

  • Teach employees to set concrete goals and adopt working methods to achieve them.

Example for a manager

  • Your manager guides your employees in setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-­‐based (SMART).

Example for an employee

  • Your employee frees up a time slot between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. to reach their goal of making 10 cold calls by the end of the day.

Action

  • Train your employees to remodel their job* and encourage them to use it.

Follow-up

  • Teach employees to adjust the elements of their work (tasks, relationships with their colleagues, perception of their work) with the aim of increasing their sense of control over how they do their work, so that it better suits their abilities and their personal needs.

Example for a manager

  • Your manager leads your employees to reflect on the best times of day to do demanding work, from a cognitive point of view.

Example for an employee

  • Your employee writes their report at the beginning of the day, as this time is conducive to their concentration and energy levels.

Action

  • Train your employees on self-efficacy and adopt management practices that promote their sense of competence.

Follow-up

  • Help your employees to develop the sense that they are able to achieve their goals (the more they achieve their goals, the more your employees feel able to achieve more complex goals).

Example for a manager

  • Your manager meets with your employees once a week to offer them constructive feedback on their work.

Example for an employee

  • Your employee asks their colleagues or manager for advice before starting to write their report. In this way, they feel more able to perform this task.

Action

  • Encourage your employees to follow a routine, and to deviate from it only when necessary.

Follow-up

  • A routine allows your employees to coordinate more effectively their resources (manager, colleagues, family), who know more what to expect about their schedule.
  • For your employees who can’t follow a routine, it is suggested that you structure their work time.

Example for a manager

  • Your manager asks your employees to be at the workplace every Thursday evening to welcome clients
  • Your manager asks your employees to be at the workplace for a set period during the day.

Example for an employee

  • Your employee’s spouse knows they must go and pick up the children at daycare in the evening.
  • Your employee is at the workplace every workday between 9:00 and 12:00 p.m.

* Clarification from our expert: Job remodelling refers to employees taking the initiative to improve their work, especially by optimizing their resources and reducing their demands.

TO CITE THIS GLOBAL-WATCH SCIENTIFIC INTERPRETATION

Gilbert, M.-H., St-Hilaire, F., Villeneuve, M., Bérubé, S., Lefebvre, R., Pérusse, M. (2018). Flexible work schedule : Is it really beneficial? Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at www.global-watch.com

TO CITE THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY THE AUTHORS OF THE STUDY

Spieler, I., Scheibe, S., Stamov-Roßnagel, C., & Kappas, A. (2017). Help or Hindrance? Day-level Relationships Between Flextime Use, Work–nonwork Boundaries, and Affective Well-being. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(1), 67–87.

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