The vital necessity of flexible work schedules

Flexible Work Schedules

No one really seems to ‘get’ it about flexible work schedules, and that’s often confusing to me. In a way, I suppose it’s the same issue as that with ‘work-life balance.’ You have an entire section of the workforce comprised predominantly of target-chasing buffoons, and those people need to constantly squeal at you about how busy they are — because that, in turn, makes them feel relevant and productive. Newsflash, though: busy and productive don’t mean the same thing and have never meant the same thing, but let’s not get too far off the reservation on flexible work schedules before we get going on this post. Onward.

Flexible Work Schedules: Why they’re logically a good idea

Here’s some stuff from Fast Company around the concept of flexible work schedules, quoting a study done by some organization called FairyGodBoss. The study says that the 1-2 punch of deciding on a job offer is:

  • Compensation
  • Ability for flexible work schedules

Sounds about right. I have no idea what FairyGodBoss is, but I like their study because they put compensation No. 1. A lot of studies about “factors in job searches” always put some intrinsic bullshit like “purpose of the company” as No. 1. That’s important to a lot of people, yes — but I’d argue it’s still a minority. You got a lot of target-chasers in this world, and people like that want to be making more scratch. Plus, job-hopping is one of the only ways to get a higher salary these days, so … compensation should be No. 1 on that list.

We get really caught up sometimes in future of work discussions and how different millennials are going to be. They’ll be a little bit different, for sure — technology and all that, + mobile influence — but they won’t be as different from Boomers as we think. Why? Because at the end of the day, people basically want one major thing out of work:

If they want a second major thing, it would be:

The third major one?

The order varies by person, obviously — but those are the ‘big three’ for most workers.

All flexible work schedules do is say to a set of employees that “We, as a company, respect you. We respect your time and respect your ability to get work done. You’re an adult and we’ll treat you like one. And if you do what you’re supposed to, we’re over here with some opportunities for growth.”

In a way, then, flexible work schedules basically speak to the three biggest work concerns for the highest majority of people. Logically, then, it would seem like a good thing. Right?

Flexible Work Schedules: Business case ROI

This is where the rubber starts to meet the road on flexible work schedules. You basically have two sides of the equation here.

  • Managers tend to assume that if someone is rocking flexible work schedules, they’re really just at an early happy hour and not hitting targets.
  • Employees tend to assume flexible work schedules is a buzzword because micromanaging is all the rage in many orgs.

Because of ‘hierarchy’ and ‘who pays your salary,’ managers tend to win out in these arguments — and that’s why totally logical staples of the flexible work schedules world such as the four-day work week haven’t yet really caught on.


If you see ‘flexible work schedules’ as similar in theory to ‘work-life balance’ (they are), here’s some good ROI news: per Towers Watson research, a logical work-life balance set-up in an organization is typically a company’s third-biggest strategic advantage. Since No. 1 on ‘biggest strategic advantage’ is usually your market position and No. 2 is usually something around your people or human capital, work-life balance coming in at No. 3 is pretty nice.

It all makes sense, of course: if you’re being respected and treated like an adult, you’re probably going to work harder. That’s just basic human psychology.

Aspect II is this: let’s say you make $80K and you work for a place with flexible work schedules, so you can do stuff with your kids, your spouse, your friends, etc. — so long as you’re achieving goals. Now some other company comes along. They want to pay you $120K. That’s a $40K bump, or 50% of your current salary. But the other company looks like a total target-chasing culture. So you can make an additional $40,000 — which is nice, because maybe you could travel or something! But … that $40,000 comes with a bunch of strings. You ain’t gonna travel. Well, you are, but it’ll be to boardrooms in Cincinnati and Singapore. It won’t be anywhere with your family.

At this moment, between $80K with flexible work schedules and $120K with being treated like a deliverables-centric farm animal, what do you choose?

I choose the $80K. That’s a bit of a joke because no one is coming along offering me $80K anytime soon, but … hopefully you get the point.

The tail end of Aspect II on flexible work schedules is this: less turnover. No one is gonna leave a place where they have some control over their time, because that’s so rare at work in most cases. You’re creating a transformative bond with employees through flexible work schedules, which is a lot better than a transactional bond created through simply high salaries.

At the end of someone’s life, what they want is time. They’re not worried about projects or money. Flexible work schedules prioritize time — which is the key to happiness anyway.

The rest of the rub on flexible work schedules

Sara Sutton Fell, the CEO of FlexJobs, has some good stuff on measuring the ROI of flexible work schedules. It lays out the different options and agendas pretty well.

Like with anything in a work sense, flexible work schedules are hard to achieve because we want work to be logic — and damn, flexible work schedules are a logical concept if I’ve ever seen one — but because work is made up of people, work tends to be emotional. In the case of flexible work schedules, emotions come in various forms:

  • Managers assuming employees won’t work hard if they’re ‘flexible’
  • Employees annoyed that managers are micromanaging the crap out of them
  • An over-reliance on targets and deliverables and less concern for people and their lives outside the cubicle walls
  • Shrieking and bellowing about ‘commitment’ and ‘accountability,’ which are the same ways women are shamed for being pregnant instead of focusing on their career
  • A bunch of people worshiping at The Temple of Busy instead of actually thinking about anything related to work and how it could be improved

As a result of all this and people’s inherent limitations — and the general lack of trust in most workplaces, alas — flexible work schedules is a hard target to hit. But it can be hit. And the ROI is there.

What else would you add?

Ted Bauer


  1. Flexibility is great, but let’s not pretend that isn’t cost-free.

    First of all, I work with people in far-off time zones where there is very little overlap in business hours. This means that instead of a phone call or a rapid-fire eight email thread, I might have to play email ping-pong over days, not minutes. A night owl with flexible hours might as well be on another continent when it comes to things like that.

    Second, there are some tasks that need to be completed reliably at the same time every day, week or month. The more “flexible” the employee, the less useful they are for things like that. If there is some work that only the 9-to-5ers can do (usually boring stuff), it breeds resentment and allocates tasks by schedule, not talent or workload.

    We can simultaneously believe that people who want flexible schedules are hard workers who are committed to the business and that flexibility imposes real costs to the rest of the enterprise.

    • Your last paragraph is the core of everything. That’s what I think I was trying to say — but probably flopped.

      • 8% of the people that advocate a 4 day work week DONOT own their own business or have never had responsibility for a companies bottom line. The other 92% are full of shit!

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