When my first child was born, I was 32, married twice, divorced once, with an MBA from Wharton and a senior marketing job at Johnson & Johnson. My primary work/family observation following my child’s arrival: I still had time, brain cells and energy to work fulltime.
But if I wanted to actually see my baby, I needed flexibility. My child’s waking hours clashed directly with my 8-6 office hours and 90 minute round-trip commute. Solving the problem before it became one, Johnson & Johnson allowed me to work at home two days a week. Giving me flexibility was free for J&J and priceless to me. In the 12 years since, I’ve regularly wondered why more companies don’t offer this win-win flexibility to new parents, even on a temporary basis.
Today’s economy, surprisingly, may push companies in the flextime direction. Usually during recessionary economic times, unemployment increases, making people desperate to keep their jobs. Employers’ negotiating leverage escalates and benefits diminish.
This economy is unusual due to one three-letter word: gas. Turns out the high price of oil is driving employers to offer flexible schedules so that their workers can commute less. The side benefit for parents: quite often, driving less means seeing our families more.
As reported in The New York Times , The U.S. Labor Department has produced a relatively short guide that lists the most common forms of flex-time arrangements, including these:
- The daily flex. Employees work nontraditional hours on a regular basis. If the typical workday at your company is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., some people may work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- The variable flex. Employees can take a break during the day — to attend a parent-teacher conference, for example — and can make up the time on either end of the workday.
- Core hours. Everyone must be in the office at a certain period, say 10 to 2, but employees may start as early as 6 a.m., leaving at 2 p.m., or begin at 10 and leave at 6 p.m.
- Occasional flex. Work hours are changed on a certain day of the week — the office opens an hour later on Fridays — or changed at a certain time of the year. “Summer hours,” for example, may mean the workday starts at 7:30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.
- Longer days. Employees may work 10 hours a day, four days a week, instead of eight hours during five days.
- Working at home (at least part time).
Now that the U.S. government has put an official stamp on flextime, maybe more companies will add these sensible options to their employee handbooks. Are you allowed to flex your work hours? Why or why not? If your company needs a push, cut and paste these options and tape them to your boss’s computer. Think about it: how would a flexible schedule change your life?