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Flexible working time concept

IT is almost 50 years since Christel Kammerer invented the “flexible working time” concept.

Emmanuel Jinda

With the rapid pace other management concepts have been adopted, it is quite perplexing to note the slow uptake of flexible working time in our region. Maybe the answer lies in our pace of industrialisation. Flexible time or flexi-time refers to variations in starting and finishing times but assumes that a constant number of working hours are worked each day. Flexi-time is meant to benefit both employees and organisations.

Its application by countries has varied because there is no one-size-fits-all schedule as the concept allows employees to customise their working hours. For example, in Australia, flexi-time refers to accumulated overtime hours that an employee can build up and exchange for the equivalent amount of time off. In Florida, employees considered flexi-workers are salaried but exempted from insurance regulations and are given a broad leeway to settle their own work schedule.

However, coming closer home, flexi-time may mean flexible work arrangements which help employees to manage either their worklife demands, time spent trying to get to work or may be used to manage costs by organisations.

The concept was once introduced in Zimbabwe some time back when one group of employees was required to start work at 9am, finishing an hour later compared to their counterparts. Our financial and telecommunications industries have adopted this concept well. Sales representatives have flexible work schedules and are remunerated based on targets met.

Currently, as a nation we face unprecedented traffic challenges, resulting in loss of productive time. Those able to get to work on time have to forgo resting time by waking up earlier than usual. These challenges have taken a great toll on parents who have to drop off and pick up kids at school. A trip that would normally be done during lunch break may now need two hours. When employees are always in a rush, agitation and fatigue kicks in. Could flexi-time address these challenges?

Notably, the developmental sector has also embraced this concept as used in Australia. Their staff work longer hours per day so that on Fridays staff leave early to attend to their social life, as well as avoid traffic jams. The time has also been allocated for social games hence providing the needed worklife balance. Where business travel happens over the weekend, they are usually allowed time off in lieu of the travelled time. Consultancy work is a prevalent flexi-working strategy and is common in this sector. The flexibility is extended to the place of work too.

Digital technology can be used to enable employees to work from anywhere and anytime. Organisations can create group platforms that allow contributions by group members hence taking away the need to be working within regular working schedules and from the office.

Using your local area networks your employees can easily access global group information anytime. The use of flexing makes employees happy, engaged and productive. Unplanned disruptive absences are reduced as employees do not call in at the last minute. There are also less claims on overtime and the system also carters for parents who may want to work from home in order to also take care of their children.

The flip side to flexi-working involves the upsurge in utility costs, especially in the manufacturing sector since the plant is open for longer periods of time. Also the managing of the work schedules may pose serious challenges. In the services sector, flexi-time may cause serious confusion in the whole business chain as schedules of delivery may be affected. The administration of the system may make demands on human resources departments by creating additional workloads.

Lack of supervision is likely as employees work those non-traditional hours. They also interfere with inter-office communication and often compels organisations to implement sophisticated time recording systems that monitor employee scheduling and punctuality.

Undoubtedly, team work occurs almost without effort where staff interact and spend time together. Organisational culture is also ingrained in such a set up. Flexi-time may take away this family sense in employees. It is important to conduct due diligence before adopting flexi-time. Once adopted, strong administration systems have to be implemented for it to be successful to avoid expenses and pitfalls highlighted above. The work schedules must meet the business needs and accommodate your staff. Extensive communication will assist in achieving the afore-mentioned. Policies and procedures have to be developed to support flexi-work schedules. Employees should not be given carte blanche to work whenever they want. It should be a system that enables staff to organise their lives around work without sacrificing work productivity.

This trend will definitely continue across countries and organisations as work is no longer confined to a particular time period and place but is now viewed as an activity to meet organisational goals. A good start for our local case is perhaps to consider flexi-starting and finishing hours as a way to manage the outside challenges that are negatively impacting businesses.

Jinda is the managing consultant of Proserve Consulting Group, a leading supplier of professional human resources and management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com.

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