The Folly of ‘Flex’ Time
Instituting a formal employee ‘flex time’ program in a white-collar organisation is folly.
The public service hasn’t worked this out yet.
A ‘flex time’ program allows staff members to accumulate ‘credits’ for time worked over and above their standard working hours, enabling them to take that time off in lieu at a later date.
The big problem, of course, is that such a ‘flex’ policy deconstructs productivity and expresses it purely in hours, minutes and seconds.
It’s quantity over quality. Those that do the time, are feted.
It doesn’t matter if you changed the world – if you didn’t do a full 7 hour, 30 minute day, then you haven’t worked. You’re a shirker. No ‘flex’ for you!
Alternatively, sit cross-eyed at your desk for 8 hours straight a day, produce absolutely nothing and….get rewarded.
What a great system!
‘Flex’ turns people into functionaries, simple drones that tick all the standard boxes, with one eye fixed firmly on the clock. This type of time-driven work environment breeds no new ideas or innovation; it breeds ‘clock watchers’ who measure their output, and the performance of others, in time blocks.
The ‘early starters’ come in before the boss and rack up their flex time drinking coffee, gas-bagging and checking the news on the web. Very little productivity occurs before the boss gets in.
Then there are the ‘lunchtime lurkers’: those who work through without a break, eating their lunch at their desk with the sole intention of padding out their flex sheet. This time would be better spent – both from an organisational and individual perspective – doing some exercise, getting some sunshine and taking a mental break from work.
For a moment, let’s pretend that these overtime workers ARE actually doing work for the benefit of the organisation (a rare situation, granted). Should the organisation encourage people to work over and above their stipulated work hours? What ever happened to work-life balance? A duty of care? Organisations with ‘flex’ program are actually incentivising their staff to work longer than they should and incentivising them not to take breaks.
How can that be good for anybody concerned?
Flex Time and Managers
‘Flex’ also makes the manager’s job harder.
Not only is it an ongoing administrative burden for all parties, it compels managers to silently scrutinise the comings and goings of their staff, potentially creating a source of conflict when it comes time to sign the all-important timesheet.
‘Flex’ also removes some of the tools available to the manager to motivate their staff. A day off was once a discretionary reward from a manager for quality work; today, it’s a routine thing that crops up (seemingly) every other week. ‘Flex’ serves to devalue ‘real’ leave; it is accumulated almost selfishly by individuals; and it does nothing to improve the wider team dynamic.
Of course, there are times when staff members do work beyond the call of duty, and it is appropriate that they are recompensed for working overtime in these situations. This can be done informally by mutual arrangement between manager and staff member.
But a formal ‘flex policy’ is folly for organisations.