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In tough economic times, many companies would rather cut back on employee hours, rather than layoff workers. Switching to a 32-hour workweek from a 40-hour workweek is a popular way many small businesses are cutting back on wages, without sacrificing health or retirement benefits for their workers. Additionally, many employees seek flex time to work around the changing needs of children, spouses, school and second jobs. As an employer, though, you have to be careful that negotiating flex time doesn’t take away from a productive work environment, or cause feelings of imparity among your office staff.

Negotiate Individually

It is always best to negotiate privately and individually with your employees. No two employees will likely have the exact same needs, so these details are best worked out with a human resource person present and in a closed-door setting.

There are psychological benefits to giving your employees flex time, but you have to ensure that your work caliber is not adversely affected in the process. When recruiting new hires, be honest and open about your policy on flex time. Further, don’t single out flex time benefits for your “favorite” workers. If you can’t afford to give flexible hours to everyone in the same department, then don’t do it at all.

Avoid Giving Too Much

If an employee wants to come into work a little later and leave a little later on Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to avoid traffic, this is typically an easy agreement to achieve. However, when an employee with a shallow work history wants to telecommute from home three days out of the week, he is usually asking for too much. The key is to find a balance that will still allow your employee to accomplish all of their needs without sacrificing their quality of work.

A great way to draw the line in negotiations for flex time is to set rules. For example, some businesses institute “core time.” This is a window of hours that every employee must be on site in order to schedule and accommodate group projects. For example, this could be from 10am to 4pm. During this time, all of your workers are on site, which allows you to schedule company-wide activities without hesitation. Whatever flex time arrangements are made outside of this time is up to your discretion.

Things to Keep in Mind

Flex time is ideal for some people, but it simply doesn’t fit every type of business. If you operate a critical industry, such as a medical facility, flex time may not be an option. As a matter of fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four employees are eligible for flex time, but only one in 10 actually utilize it.

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