Flexible Working Arrangements: Options
The flexible working arrangement principles and guidelines expressed on this website have primary application to non-represented staff. Staff who are represented by a bargaining unit should see their collective bargaining agreement for information about flexible working arrangements.
Depending on the nature of a job, there may be a variety of creative ways to think about structuring the work. Consider the following possibilities:
Creative Schedules typically refer to work schedules with varied starting and ending times within parameters set by supervisors. Most creative schedules combine adjustments at the beginning or end of the day and/or at lunchtime with a core time during the middle of the day when all staff must be present.
Creative Schedules can successfully reduce employee absences and overtime expenses, increase access for students and staff during extended workdays and provide quiet time for staff who choose to work early or late.
In order for Creative Schedules to succeed, supervisors must address several key issues:
- Employee performance during extended work hours must be monitored
- Other staff must not be unduly burdened by an individual's flexible schedule
- Good communication is essential to coordinate work within the unit
Creative Schedules come in all shapes and sizes from a compressed work-week of ten-hour days to varying starting and quitting times during the regular five-day work-week. Creative schedules typically involve:
- A detailed work schedule
- An agreed-upon trial period or a fixed time period
- A clear process for reviewing and extending the schedule
- Provision for reverting to the normal work schedule within a reasonable time period if necessary
Here is a sample structure for thinking about creative schedules:
Flexible Starting Times
Flexible Lunch Breaks
Flexible Leaving Times
Standard Work Day
In this example, all staff work 37.5 hours a week. Core time, when all staff are on the job, is from 9:30 am to 11:30 am and from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm. Flexible time is from 6:00 am to 9:30 am, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Lunch time may be 1 or 2 hours long. The standard work day, 8:00 to 4:30 pm, is when normal department services are available.
Considering a Creative Scheduling Proposal
How does a supervisor determine whether a creative scheduling request will work in the department? The supervisor will begin by reviewing the duties and responsibilities of each employee, and will then work through a list of questions that may include:
- Can service to the customer continue at a high level with a creative schedule?
- Are some tasks more easily accomplished in the early morning or late afternoon when it is quiet?
- Which times are critical for each person to be in during the week?
This review can help determine which jobs are appropriate for creative scheduling and how other jobs in the department might be affected.
Two examples of creative scheduling proposals:
Maria is pursuing an advanced degree in public administration while she is working full-time in University Financial Services. She would like to change her work schedule from five days a week to four days a week so that she can dedicate most of the fifth day to her coursework. Since she largely works independently, she felt that a schedule change might work without affecting her department's effectiveness. She asked her supervisor for approval to spread her 37.5 hour work week over four days instead of five. She now works Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm and reserves Mondays for her course work.
Peter has two young daughters in elementary school. He shares parenting responsibilities with his partner, and would like to come into work at 9:00 so that he can drop the girls off at school each morning while his partner picks them up each afternoon. Peter's work in the library requires limited work with students and he thought an adjustment might be made to his schedule. He proposed a flextime workday beginning at 9:00 am and ending at 5:30 pm. His supervisor was pleased to have Peter available to students at the end of the workday when they are more likely to need his help than early in the morning, and she agreed to the change.
Job Sharing: Splitting a Full-Time Position in Two
Job sharing is a voluntary commitment between two employees to share one job, dividing responsibilities and salary. When a full-time position is split 50-50, each employee receives UVM benefits equivalent to those earned by a part-time employee. Typically, an agreement is written between the partners and the supervisor to establish the time period for the arrangement, a procedure for evaluating the partnership, and a process for returning the position to one full-time position, if the supervisor decides to do so.
The time may be divided in various ways, most commonly by splitting the workday in half or the work-week in alternating twos and threes. Individuals may apply together for one position by preparing resumes and interviewing jointly. The supervisor may advertise and fill a part of the shared position. In all cases, those sharing a position must work together to divide the work according to ability and interest, and they must maintain regular contact to be sure the work is getting done.
Job sharing can sometimes be a good solution for both the University and the employee. It offers the flexibility to balance work with time for other pursuits or responsibilities. Many appreciate the opportunity to pursue their career even when other pressures make full-time commitment impossible. Supervisors in turn benefit from the continuity of having valuable employees stay on during life transitions and also cover for their job-sharing partner during vacations and illnesses. Since each employee has his or her own set of skills and abilities, supervisors frequently acknowledge that job-sharing results in a broader, more well-rounded experience within the department.
Job sharing is obviously not appropriate for every position. It works best when the responsibilities of a position can be divided and completed at different times of the week. A job sharing arrangement should be carefully designed so that:
- Key tasks are clear and never overlooked
- Each partner communicates well with the other
- Both partners communicate well with departmental colleagues
- Expectations for performance are clear and measurable
Job Sharing and Job Security
There is one fundamental difference between regular part-time status and sharing a full-time position. The job-sharing agreement is for a fixed period of time which may be extended at the discretion of the supervisor, or the position may become a full-time position filled by only one individual—sometimes by a third party. In short, employees sharing a position will have somewhat less job security than regular part-time employees.
Job Sharing and Performance Discrepancies
Job-sharing partners have a responsibility toward each other to perform effectively in the position. Each individual in a shared position will be evaluated separately and independently according to the procedures outlined in the Staff Handbook. Probationary periods for non-exempt and exempt employees will also be required unless the work agreement between the supervisor and the job-sharing employees clearly states otherwise. When one partner in a job-sharing position performs poorly, the supervisor may choose to replace that person immediately with another partner or end the job sharing agreement early and seek a full-time person to fill the position.
Job Sharing, Supervision and Communication
A job sharing arrangement may require more from the supervisor in terms of coordination and supervision, though procedures in the original work agreement can help reduce the impact on a supervisor's time and energy. For example, a supervisor might schedule a weekly meeting with the job-sharing partners to review the work and anticipate problems. In most cases, the benefits of a strong job-sharing partnership outweigh concerns about supervision.
Job Sharing Models for Success
Contact the HRS Management Consulting team at firstname.lastname@example.org to develop a job sharing agreement at UVM. You may also be put in touch with supervisors or job-sharing partners who can provide their insights about this kind of work arrangement.
Two examples of sharing a full-time position:
Suri's research job was ideal in all respects except that it kept her away from her 3-year old son more than she wanted. Another researcher in her department was in the same bind and each joked from time to time about how much they'd like to be in two places at once. One day, it all clicked. They wondered if they could design a plan to share one full-time position so that they could spend half days at home and half at their job. They brought up the idea to their supervisor who was agreeable for a three-month trial period, as long as their was a coordination of effort and the research was carried on at the same level as before. The job-sharing arrangement worked so well that their supervisor approved a one-year extension. Suri worked each morning and Susan worked each afternoon for the following year.
At the age of 60, Hamid was thinking about retirement and launching a new venture on his own. He knew that he needed time to set up his business, but it was impossible with his full-time library job. He approached his supervisor with the idea of working Monday, Tuesday, and half of Wednesday and having the rest of the week to devote to his future business. They worked out a plan to recruit for a job-sharing position and together they interviewed candidates and selected a qualified and compatible person, Sarah, who was eager to work half-time in a responsible position. Hamid and Sarah set up a solid communication system and overlapped their jobs on Wednesday so that they could jointly keep abreast of developments in their department. As Hamid approaches retirement, he is prepared for his new business and yet continues to make a solid contribution to the library. Sarah will inevitably need to decide whether she wishes to apply for the full-time spot once Hamid is retired.
Temporary Reduction to Part-Time (Employee-Initiated)
A work time reduction allows a full-time employee to reduce her individual work hours for a specified time with a corresponding reduction in pay. Unlike regular part-time employment, there is usually a time limit and a clear process for returning to full-time status.
This option is attractive for those who would like to try out a reduced time commitment with the assurance that they can renegotiate or terminate the agreement at the end of a specific period of time. Many find that working at 75% of full-time equivalency (FTE) without a reduction in benefits is very helpful. Health, dental, life, disability insurance, tuition remission and retirement are not reduced at 75% FTE or above. For the department, payroll costs may be reduced without losing a valuable employee.
Important Consideration: The reduction of a 12-month position to anything less than 75% FTE makes the position eligible for part-time benefits only. Human Resource Services can explain the implications of this to any interested employee.
The supervisor should be alert to possible challenges to departmental operations:
- If the workload increases and additional staff are unavailable
- If the employee is unable to handle the most important tasks during the reduced work hours
- If staff and work assignments are "on hold" until the reduced time employee is back to full-time status
Early Return to the Position
There may be instances when an employee wishes to end a previously agreed-upon temporary reduction in FTE and return to fulltime status before the original ending date. The supervisor, who may have made other arrangements with another employee to accomplish the work, is under no obligation to the employee on temporary reduction of FTE to return him or her to full-time status before the specified end date of the temporary reduction. However, the supervisor should make every effort to speed up the return process, making alternative arrangements with the interim employee whenever possible.
Two examples of temporary reduction to part-time status:
In his final year of study toward a degree in education, Aaron was required to take a student teaching position. He needed two mornings a week away from his regular full-time position at UVM. Aaron requested a temporary reduction in his work time to 80% FTE for the fall and spring semesters with Tuesday and Thursday mornings off to complete his degree. Aaron's supervisor reviewed the work that could be anticipated for the following eight months and determined that portions could be handled by a temporary employee during the week with the proviso that Aaron must structure the temporary employee's work for maximum efficiency.
Shou needed time at home from her regular full-time job to care for her children during the summer months. She knew she could get good childcare each morning, but she wanted to spend the afternoons at home. She asked her supervisor if she could reduce her FTE temporarily from 100% to 50% and work mornings only from June 15 to September 15. Together she and her supervisor considered how the department could operate without compromising quality during the summer months and they developed a plan to shift some of Shou's work to a colleague whose restricted fund salary did not continue during the summer. Shou could work each morning, prepare her colleague's afternoon work, and take time to spend with her family until the children were back in school in the fall.
Change to Regular Part-Time Work
A regular reduced work-time agreement may be an option for individuals who wish to work fewer hours. It is an attractive alternative for staff who have strong outside interests, and those who wish to balance family responsibilities with work—as long as they work in a situation that lends itself to a part-time arrangement. A part-time position may provide part-time benefits (depending on the number of hours worked), and it allows the University to keep valued employees who want to work fewer hours. It may also have a positive effect on recruitment, and may free funds for other departmental needs by potentially reducing staffing.
Effective part-time workers generally have a regular opportunity to communicate with other staff members and work closely with their supervisor to make the most efficient use of their limited time.
Two examples of changing to regular part-time work:
Winston has been employed in the same position at the University for seven years and during this time, he has been building a small mail order business in model trains. He would like to change his employment status to a regular part-time job so that he can dedicate half of his time to UVM and the other half to his train business. When he discusses the idea with his supervisor, he finds a ready ear. Together they analyze his responsibilities and determine that there is no reason why another staff member cannot be hired on a regular part-time basis to perform the same work.
Lucie and school-aged Will have become excellent gardeners over the years. She has always commuted to her job at UVM from the country and makes the proposal to change her work status from a 12-month to a 10-month position so that she can enjoy her family and garden during July and August. Since she works in an academic department that slows down considerably during the summer, she structured a plan to reduce her responsibilities to span just 10 months and presented it to her supervisor. They then worked together to finetune the summer absence so that a temporary employee could handle work that remained during Lucie's two months away. Her supervisor agreed to the change on a one-year trial basis, provided Lucie was available for help if needed.
Work-from-home is a scheduling alternative that may help employees to accomplish their work responsibilities while balancing family and personal needs. Supervisors set clear expectations about how the work is to be assigned, completed and evaluated, as well as how colleagues communicate at a distance.
Work-from-home frequently entails a temporary reduction of hours worked, since employees may not be able to maintain their regular schedule.
Not every job is suited for work-from-home, of course. Some positions require certain equipment and materials, while others require regular face-to-face contact with the public and/or the University community. It is the supervisor's responsibility to determine whether the job can in fact be done from home.
Assigning Work and Monitoring Performance
When an employee works from home for a temporary period, there should be a clear agreement about how work will be accomplished and evaluated as well as a regular communication system to address any problems that arise. While an employee may begin the process of requesting a work-from-home arrangement with the regular proposal form, a formal letter of agreement will be required as well.
When assigning work, the supervisor should review:
- The duties and responsibilities of the position to identify the most appropriate assignments for work-from-home
- The work of the department to identify work that could be temporarily done away from the office
- Special projects that lend themselves to work-from-home
With this information, a supervisor should be able to develop a solid agreement with the employee who must temporarily work from home.
To monitor performance, the supervisor may want to schedule a daily telephone call, a weekly check-in, a written report, or a meeting on campus when possible.
The Importance of Good Communication
It is critical to keep an open line of communication between the supervisor and the employee in an alternative work schedule arrangement. Here are several options that may be combined or adapted to the individual situation:
- Hold a weekly informational staff meeting to keep everyone in the department informed
- Meet with individuals or small groups depending on their schedules
- Consider a weekly report or progress memo
- Schedule a monthly meeting to supplement written communications
Ending the Work-from-Home Period
The temporary work agreement should include an ending date for the work-from-home arrangement, and when that is not possible, a process for determining when the return is appropriate. Generally, employees will inform their supervisor when they are ready to return to work on campus. From time to time it may be necessary for the supervisor to speak with medical or other professionals about readiness to return and the supervisor has the right and the responsibility to end a work-from-home arrangement in order to meet the objectives of the organization.
Two examples of working-from-home:
Edin was working on a long-term computer project that had a six-month deadline. As he began working on the project, he realized that he needed to find a space that provided fewer interruptions than his office. Edin felt he could work from home three days a week and make better progress, while still managing his responsibilties in the office. Since the project was almost entirely independent, his supervisor agreed to the arrangement and was willing to schedule meetings, etc., to be held on the days that Edin was in the office. The arrangement worked so well that the project was completed early.
Rachel worked on special projects for an office in Student Affairs until her daughter was born and she took a six week leave of absence. Thereafter, she asked to temporarily work-from-home for a three month transition period. She submitted her request to her supervisor with a proposal for completing several special projects during the three months. The proposal included a regular on-campus meeting every week to go over progress and receive direction. Her supervisor was agreeable to the additional time from home as long as Rachel agreed to return to work in the office if the work-from-home arrangment was unsatisfactory.
Professional Development and Flexible Working Arrangements
Staff need specialized, current knowledge to do their jobs, and they need to understand how their profession is changing. Carefully chosen workshops and classes and other learning opportunities can help equip staff for the many challenges of work in the twenty-first century.
At the University of Vermont, we work in an ideal learning environment, but individuals must take personal responsibility for continuing their education, either formally through classes or by experience through service committees and governance groups. The University encourages participation in educational opportunities that increase the effectiveness of staff in their present positions and prepare them to take on new responsibilities in the future.
Avenues for ongoing education are virtually limitless. Tuition remission for all employees makes earning a degree a real possibility. HRS Learning Services offers a variety of programs for professional development in communication, computing, career planning, supervisory skills, and fundamental workplace skills. Campus organizations and service committees are always looking for new members, and professional organizations offer specialized training and the chance to make contacts within the professional field.
Part of a supervisor's job is to encourage and support professional development for each individual staff member. Deciding upon the nature of that learning is a joint effort between the employee and supervisor. It is a good idea to make a plan for professional development and skills training and incorporate it into the annual performance appraisal so that it becomes a fundamental part of the work and a dimension that can be discussed and reviewed regularly.
With this in mind, the University expects supervisors to encourage staff participation in developing skills, knowledge and experience through course work and service committees. If an educational opportunity takes place during the regular work schedule, release time may be approved and work schedules may be modified when necessary. Please bear in mind, however, that each supervisor must balance individual needs with the overall work of the department. When possible, staff should seek to minimize conflicts with work schedules. Arrangements for release time must always be approved in advance by the supervisor or department head.
Two examples of professional development proposals:
Rick's work has led him into the field of computing, although he does not have much training in this area. He would like to apply his experience with marketing to new knowledge about computing with the goal of finding solutions to departmental needs. He has learned that he can receive formal computer training in a semester-long class offered by the UVM Computer Science Department. He prepares a proposal and discusses it with his supervisor, who immediately affirms the value to the department and agrees that Rick should attend the class even though it meets during his regular working hours.
Margaret has been on the staff at UVM for four years and she has recently felt that she would like to get to know more people and become involved with campuswide initiatives. As a result, she has volunteered to work on the Staff Appreciation Week planning team. This project requires regular attendance at meetings and occasional work during her regular work day. She makes a formal proposal to her supervisor to change her work hours. As she gets involved, she meets people from around the campus and becomes more familiar with project teams at UVM. Her supervisor expects that he will be able to count on Margaret to navigate through administrative processes after she has spent several months on this project. He also believes she will make many valuable contacts who can provide her with the right directions when she needs to solve problems in the future.
Last modified August 04 2014 04:03 PM