The Flex Work Question: Is Legislation Really the Right Approach?

There’s been a lot of talk recently regarding flexible scheduling policies in organizations.

All kinds of people have been writing about whether such policies are actually beneficial or harmful for businesses, as well as questioning if flexible scheduling polices are really essential or non-essential to things like employee engagement, well-being, and productivity.

Actually, I think these discussions miss the point and I don’t think any of these questions can be answered on such a broad scale. The potential for flexible scheduling policies to help or hinder an organization is dependent on a whole series of variables, making such questions decidedly organization specific and not answerable as a larger theme that applies to all organizations.

What we can confirm about flexible scheduling policies however, is that they are a highly regarded benefit and broadly implemented by some organizations.

58% of U.S. employers offer telecommuting options

The graph below from Statista, detailing data from a 2013 Employee Benefits Report by SHRM, found that in the U.S in 2013, 58 percent of employers offered the option of telecommuting to some of their employees and 4 percent planned on starting to offer telecommuting within the next year.

This data gives us a rough idea of the implementation of flexible scheduling policies within the U.S, and with more than half of employers offering telecommuting options it’s obvious that this is an approach worth discussing.statista-shrm-telecommuting-2013

We can clearly point to Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo (see my post here) as one of the major sparks in the recent discussions about flexible scheduling. Adding to the controversy is legislation that has passed in Vermont and now San Francisco, requiring certain organizations to seriously consider employee’s requests for a flexible work schedule.

More flex work legislation is coming

The most recent legislation around flexible scheduling passed just last month in San Francisco. The Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance (FFWO) will become operative on Jan. 1 2014, and mandates that employers with twenty or more staff give employees in caregiver roles the right to request a predictable or flexible work schedule.

To qualify an employee must have worked for the organization for more than six months, work at least eight (8) hours a week on a regular basis, and be a caregiver for a child or children under the age of 18, a parent(s) over the age of 65, or a person(s) with a serious health condition in a family relationship with the employee.

If an employee meets these standards they have the right to submit a request for a flexible schedule and their employer is required to meet with them within 21 days. The employer is required to respond to the request within 21 days of their meeting and if the employer denies a request they must explain the denial in a written response that sets out a bona fide business reason for the denial and provides the employee with notice of the right to request reconsideration.

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Legislation like this raises a whole new set of questions around flexible scheduling policies.

Will legislation be a roadblock to the flexible workplace?

The San Francisco ordinance is positive in that it helps to protect employees against discrimination based on their caregiver status, however, at the same time, could you argue that legislation like this goes too far? Does it restrict an organization’s right to organize their business in the way they see fit, and most conducive to achieving goals?

The FFWO could be positive in prompting employees that desire flexible scheduling policies to speak out – employees that may have previously felt afraid to voice such requests do to the bureaucracy of their organizations. But what will the effects be on organizations that have never implemented flexible scheduling policies?

Will the ordinance cause a roadblock and additional internal conflict? These are some of the top questions that come to mind as I consider the implications of flexible scheduling legislation.

What do you think?

This originally appeared on China Gorman’s blog at ChinaGorman.com.

China Gorman is a successful global business executive in the competitive Human Capital Management (HCM) sector. She is a sought-after consultant, speaker and writer bringing the CEO perspective to the challenges of building cultures of humanity for top performance and innovation, and strengthening the business impact of Human Resources.

Well known for her tenure as CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, COO and interim CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and President of Lee Hecht Harrison, China works with HCM organizations all over the world to enhance their brands and their go-to-market strategies. Additionally, she serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Jobs for America’s Graduates as well as the Advisory Boards of Elevated Careers, the Workforce Institute at Kronos, and WorldBlu. Addtionally, she chairs the Globoforce WorkHuman Advisory Board and the Universum North America Board. China is the author of the popular blog Data Point Tuesday, and is published and frequently quoted in media properties like Fortune, TLNT, Huffington Post, Inc., Fast Company, U.S. News & World Report and many others.

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2 Comments on “The Flex Work Question: Is Legislation Really the Right Approach?

  1. Why is it the role of government to require employers to meet the personal preferences of an employee? This even goes so far as requiring the employer to provide a written “bona fide business reason” (the interpretation of this will certainly be taken to extremes), for denying the request. Why in writing? So that it can be used when the employee decides to sue for not getting their way.

    This kind of nanny-state legislative approach loses site of the premise of free enterprise. How long before we have laws requiring employers provide employees with transportation if they are required to work in the office?

    If an employee needs to be able to telecommute or work remotely because they are a caregiver, perhaps they should go to work for a company that offers these arrangements of their own volition?

  2. I personally think far too much has been made about Marissa’s decision to put an end to flexible work. It is like HR is obsessed with it and no company should ever prohibit it. Who are we to decide it doesn’t make sense at Yahoo?

    As far as surveys that show who does and who does not have flexible working hours— it’s “best practice” stuff that causes us to change company policies/practices just we can be one of the lemmings. Doesn’t anyone think for him/herself?

    All companies are different. There are no “best practices” except what works for your company.

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