Consequences of flexible working hours

Professor Anita Bosch, associate professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

Suggesting flexible working hours to alleviate traffic congestion as suggested by City of Cape Town officials could have a serious impact on employees and company productivity, says Professor Anita Bosch, associate professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

“Telecommuting employees are less engaged and often feel quite alienated from the organisation.

“Research shows that on average a maximum of 20% of working time should be flexible.”

Professor Bosch says one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the manager’s fear that he or she cannot manage employees if he or she cannot see them.

“Monitoring of performance becomes a key requirement of a manager of virtual workers. Yet, many South African managers are not so well attuned to output and performance targets and the out-of-sight-out-of-mind mantra sadly become all too evident come performance appraisal time.”

Professor Bosch says the nature of the job is central to whether flexible scheduling can occur.

“Pertinent questions to consider are whether the position is client facing, if clients visit the office or the option of employees delivering the service off-site, the hours within clients expect service and the hours clients become accustomed to, and whether the job relates to a specific process or outcome which is attached to specific hours and a place of work.”

She says companies should be well aware of the mechanisms they ought to have in place to ensure that productivity does not decline and that work remains at the same level of performance, or even better, that performance increases in comparison to when people are working from the office.

She says companies considering flexible work arrangements are at liberty to request that employees can guarantee that they can deliver work at the same standard to which they would had they been at the office.

“Once jobs have been identified as having potential for flexible hours, those positions not suitable to such an arrangement should also be examined. However, the introduction of flexible work hours to some but not all employees is hardly an easy sell.

“Perhaps work hour flexibility may not be possible for certain positions, but working from a remote location might be an option.

“Virtual working has been heralded as the panacea to many employment frustrations such as wasting time in rush-hour traffic.”

Gathering data regarding the design of jobs throughout the organisation is crucial before communicating intentions. She says perceptions of fairness should be managed by explicating the criteria for the participation in flexible work practices.

Professor Bosch says the introduction of workplace policies to improve traffic congestion may be a collective approach to destigmatise the use of family friendly policies.

“Employees that take up flexitime or utilise telecommuting arrangements are often regarded as less committed to their jobs and as such may experience career penalties.

“If these policies are associated with positive collective outcomes such as the creation of a greener city through the reduction of carbon emissions, a better quality of life for citizens of a metropolitan area, or associated with better financial outcomes based on living in affordable areas that may be far from the place of work, then alleviating traffic congestion may very well be the elixir to the adoption of policies aimed at balance in the work context.”