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The New Case for Flexible Working Arrangements

Flex time is not new in Canada but with a multi-generational workforce, there is now a new impetus for employers to offer additional flexibility in working arrangements to their employees. These arrangements include allowing employees to telecommute or work off site, extra time off for personal reasons in addition to vacation leave and some form of job sharing. Other options involve time off for education leave, compressed work weeks, sabbatical leaves and even paid time off to perform volunteer work in the community.

Brian W. Pascal
There are many benefits to both the employer and the employee in working out a flexible work schedule. They include improving work life balance which in turns leads to increased morale and productivity. There is also a side benefit to flex time in that it reduces the amount of time spent travelling to work and means that our ecological footprint is at least slightly reduced.

The main reason why flex time is so important is that it allows employees to look after their responsibilities at home while maintaining a productive pace at work. This is particularly true for working mothers who can now spend more time with their children, especially when they are very young. A new trend is that many fathers now want to share in that same experience. Employers who allow both parents this benefit will be rewarded by increased loyalty and greater attention to work.

Another area that flex time is starting to address is elder care. Many baby boomers have now assumed full or partial care of their aging parents and they need extra time during working hours to take them for medical appointments. As with the flexibility for parental responsibilities, employers who acknowledge and respond to this need will likely be able to retain key employees a little longer.

Employers must also now meet the needs of older workers who are getting close to retirement. In order to ensure that they are most productive, many employers allow these workers to transition to retirement through flex time options and even a shorter work week. In the case of employees who wish to stay past their projected retirement dates to mentor new workers or maintain corporate memory and continuity, these options are important to both employees and the organization.

In addition to these somewhat traditional reasons for offering a range of flexible work options, there's a new kid on the block demanding attention as well. Young workers from the X, Y, and soon to be Z generations are entering the workforce with some very fixed ideas of how long and how often they want to work. They may be bright, articulate and highly talented, but their first loyalty is to themselves and their own personal work life balance.

With the looming labour shortage due to the baby boom exodus, employers will have to be ultra flexible and creative to attract and retain the new generation of workers. They know that they have job opportunities across the street and around the world. If one employer won't help them maintain their desired lifestyle, they will have no hesitation in moving to another. It's not pure selfishness, it's just that they realize the laws of supply and demand and they know they are in demand.

Economists, workplace experts and even the Conference Board of Canada believe that the next phase of flex time may involve individualized contracts with employees that see them working on a contract or part-time basis and spending at least part of their time working from home. The reality is that the new generations of workers will have much more opportunity than the rest of us to control how long, how often and how much they want to work. The good news is that these new workers don't mind working hard while at work and are certainly interested in things like performance pay and bonuses if they meet or exceed certain targets.


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