How Flexible Schedules Make Employees Happy and Productive

This article is for educational purposes and does not constitute legal or tax advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.

As an employee, figuring out how you can be the most productive at work can be a challenge. As a manager, figuring out how your employees can be the happiest and, in turn, the most productive can be even harder.

In recent years, companies have started experimenting with a more flexible working environment to see if that delivers higher productivity.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines a flexible scheduleas a working schedule that gives employees the freedom to decide their arrival and/or departure times outside of the traditional 40-hour, 9-to-5 workweek.

As a manager, you may be wary of all your employees working different schedules. And balancing all your employees’ schedules can be difficult. But, as long as you are fair to each employee, giving them a little freedom can increase productivity more than you originally may have predicted.

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A flexible schedule can be manifested in many different ways, some of the most popular being:

Flex time

More and more companies are adopting a policy that doesn’t dictate what time you arrive and leave, as long as you get your work done and your teammates can still rely on you.

Working remotely

As technology becomes more advanced, it’s easier to communicate with coworkers without stepping foot in your workplace. A 2014 study by Stanford researchers on a telecommunications company found that employees at home were on average 13-percent more productive, making more phone calls and spending more time on the phone.

Working part time

Employees who can’t work a 40-hour week — for whatever reason — may want to switch to working part time. This option allows companies to keep a valued employee who can’t, or doesn’t want to, commit to a full-time schedule.

Parental leave

While maternity and paternity leave aren’t ongoing flexible schedules, it’s still very important to treat employees who take parental leave fairly. Documented bias against parents — called the “Maternal Wall” — has sparked an increase in companies looking at how to expand and improve parental leave in a way that benefits both employees and businesses.

In 2016, the D.C. Council passed a plan that will provide private-sector workers expansive paid family and medical leave, and guarantees eight weeks of paid time for new parents. Some companies, like Etsy, have taken improvements one step further and are being more flexible about when parents take parental leave, allowing them to divide their time off over a period of time. In general, companies have also started lengthening the amount of full-time paid time off to allow parents to adjust to life with a new child without the stress of getting back to work immediately.

Empowering employees to work in a way that makes them most productive and allows them to create a healthy work-life balance can make employees happier. From a business standpoint, introducing flexible schedules can also reap a lot of benefits, including:

  • Recruitment
    Flexible schedules can be a powerful recruiting tool. With the job market becoming increasingly competitive, offering employees the option to define their own schedule can be an attractive benefit to help your company recruit top talent.
  • Increased productivity
    Sitting at a desk in a stuffy office or working a rigid 40-hour-week schedule may not be the best environment for everyone. Giving employees a little freedom may be the boost they need to optimize their performance.
  • Reduced employee burnout
    Burnout often happens when employees feel they lack work-life balance. Giving workers the flexibility to get their work done, while still being able to make personal commitments, can make employees feel motivated and refreshed. The same Stanford study noted above also found that employees who work from home are less likely to resign.

You should also be aware of potential downsides to flexible schedules. Employees who prefer a collaborative environment may feel that coworkers working out of the office decreases productivity for the team as a whole. It can also make it difficult for employers to schedule team-building exercises and can reduce the feeling of team bonding.

Before approving or negotiating a flexible schedule for an employee, make sure to consult your HR department or review company policies. Double-check that your employees are in compliance with the rules outlined by the company.

If you’ve gotten approval, but the idea of your employees working nontraditional schedules still makes you nervous, try to follow these guidelines to make sure everyone is happy and treated fairly.

  • Establish clear boundaries
    If you agree on a type of schedule with your employee, make sure the parameters are clear. To make sure your team stays in sync, establish a recurring day and time for your team to meet in person each week.
  • Communicate
    If everyone is working slightly different schedules, it’s more important than ever to stay in communication. Keeping your team in sync and continuously communicating can also increase employee morale.
  • Trust your employees
    If a flexible schedule is something new you’re trying out, establishing trust is important. Since working hours may be nontraditional, you need to trust your employees to complete their tasks and meet performance goals without micromanaging them.