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When describing their workplaces, CEOs and managers frequently say...
"our best assets are our people". However, they have noticed that those people assets are showing high levels of stress because of obligations outside of work, such as child care and elder care. In addition to making this observation, managers are finding that providing support to the employees in meeting those obligations improves the employees' performance on the job, and is a good return on investment. One kind of support is planning for Alternative Work Arrangements.

Alternative Work Arrangements means making a change in the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day, but can also refer to a change in the location of work; part-time in the office and part-time at home. These options may not seem possible for all kinds of workplaces, but the following comments are intended to help managers weigh all the odds.

Those workplaces which have the appropriate circumstances yet hesitate introducing changes, are usually dealing with reluctance on the part of management personnel, existing labour agreements, or the perceptions by both management and employees about the historical ideas of work and family. In the past, not only did managers view work and family as two separate entities, employees likewise took pride in the extent to which they could keep the two parts of their lives separate and not connected.

Those attitudes have changed, and in the 21st century, both management and employees are dealing with different circumstances. An increase in the number of women working creates the need for more child care services. An increase in older parents who live beyond 70 and often need care, puts demands on their children who are employees. Those demands take the shape of needing extra time to care, finding support to locate resources, and dealing with additional emotional stress. For all employees including those without children or aging parents, there are opportunities for additional education during working hours, and opportunities to volunteer for non-profit organizations. Employees are more able to take advantage of these opportunities when their employer has invested in Alternative Work Arrangements.

The changes for management are easy to describe, but often not so easy for management personnel to recognize. Too frequently the CEO and his team repeat the routines of former years by trying to super-motivate employees. They also have in place a 6-month recognition luncheon, but after presenting a number of awards for employees at a recent luncheon, that recognition didn't reduce the stress and increased productivity problems. For those management leaders who have recognized that societal family changes do affect the conditions under which his employees work, and have not been hesitant to try new ideas, the implementation of Alternative Work Arrangements has reduced the overall stress and contributed to improved productivity.

In contrast to the employees and management who are eager to plan for and participate in Alternative Work Arrangements, there are some managers and employees who are not only reluctant, but express a disinterest in any kind of flexible work arrangements. They may have children and aging parents, but they also have a strong career focus which dominates their thinking. That means the option to spend more time on family responsibilities is not seen as an advantage. This fact has been researched by the Cornell University Careers Institute (New York State, USA).

The preceeding comments should not imply that employees who want and need alternative work arrangements do not have a career focus. Somehow their thinking allows them to see a compatible fit with the idea of a career being developed within the environment of alternative work arrangements. This means that one plan or policy will not fit everyone in the same way.

Some companies have been able to provide facilities for child care at or close to their workplaces, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion. (However, there are links about Corporate Child Care which follow the links on Alternative Work Arrangements.)

The current information is about arranging alternative work schedules so that employees can make better use of private or public services in their communities such as child care, elder care or continuing education. Providing information to employees about services available in the community, can also be part of a support program.


Alternative Work Arrangements

For a daily schedule:

  1. Provide flexibility in the employee's arrival and departure schedules or extend the time at noon around the lunch hour.
  2. Design a compressed work week... Two days for 10 hours and three days for 5 hours.
  3. Arrange specified times to work at home and at the office. This may include additional computer costs, but could reduce the space expenses at the office.
  4. Provide the flexibility for staff to arrange job sharing with the understanding that the daily contacts and end product are similar to having one employee cover the job. Managers frequently notice that with shared positions the production results increase rather than decrease beyond the expectations for one person doing the job.

For occasional time demands:

With the back-up of managers and H. R. encourage staff to arrange with one another for the coverage of jobs for brief periods of time when employees need to be absent to attend:

  • medical appointments
  • special events at their children's school
  • occasional meetings at the agency where they volunteer
  • a daytime course or training event


Developing a Plan for Alternative Work Arrangements

Who or what starts the development of a plan?

  1. As a result of statistics showing increased absenteeism and decreased productivity, the Human Resources department or the manager of any other department could initiate discussion with top management and employees about alternative work arrangements.
  2. The stressed employees who need relief from a standard time schedule could approach their team leader, supervisor or Human Resources staff about the possibilities of arranging a flexible work schedule.
  3. Staff members of either an external or internal Employee Family Assistance Program could alert the company management group or Human Resources Department about the numbers of staff they are counselling re the problems of meeting family and work obligations.
  4. Monthly production numbers could show a significant decrease and management investigates possible causes. At that time it is so important that the employees are specific and honest about the causes of their stress which reduce their ability to carry out their responsibilities and affects the overall productivity.

Tips for developing a plan:

  1. The first stage is a trial or experimental stage worked out with a few employees to see if the conditions fit the staff and the worksite.
  2. Team leaders and supervisors can sometimes estimate ahead of time the interdepartmental communications and productivity that will be affected by changes in work schedules, but a trial run for a period of time will confirm whether there are problems and whether solutions can be found.
  3. If there appear to be unsolvable problems it is easier to return to square one and start over with different time options and changed circumstances.
  4. It is not unusual to find resistance from staff who do not have family demands from either children or elders.
  5. At times like these, resistant staff need to be helped to see the broader picture and the impact on the total organization. It is also important to have confirming support from senior management whose message is, " this issue is important to us all...we must find a solution and we need your help."

Who participates in making the decisions?

  1. Senior Management unless this responsibility has been delegated.
  2. The team leaders or department managers where staff are located who are considering working with the changed schedules.
  3. Human Resources staff may be a leading facilitator or an informed participant depending on the circumstances.
  4. The employees who will be putting new schedules into practice.
  5. The employees who will be affected by the results of the proposed schedules... even though they may or may not be participants in changing their own work schedules.
  6. A representative of the bargaining unit if the workplace is unionized.

For those workplaces where management has responded to these needs, results are showing that providing Alternative Work Arrangements has contributed to better recruitment, performance, and retention of employees. Even though the need for these changes originates with the employees, the results affect management and the entire company as well. (In the following Links there will be references to research.)


Links to Alternative Work Arrangements

Families and Work Institute
When you arrive at the home page there are four sections. The upper left section is devoted to explaining what the organization is about, but in order to get all the details, you need to click on the very small print which says "More about FWI".

The section in the upper right corner is about "What's New".
Those topics include:
1. Workplace Flexibility.
2. Working in Retirement: a 21st Century Phenomenon.
3. A woman's nation takes on Alzheimers.

In both sections, but especially on the left side, there are numerous studies and reports which can be downloaded.

Work Life Harmony Enterprises
There are several sections which go to make up the Enterprises so you can just follow the directions. The first section is Canadian Worklife Network. One thing they do in this section is introduce Nora Spinks who was the founder of this organization and remains today the president and CEO of Work Life Harmony Enterprises. Membership in the Canadian Worklife Network is free although registration is required. They provide a word to click on which takes you to the process of becoming registered.

The challenges confronting employees and managers in the area of "Work-Life" issues are extreme. They need to be understood and acted upon. This link is one step in that direction.

Work Options
The approach of this Link is to provide the employee with the thinking patterns, and the actual words, including a template for submitting a proposal to the manager, supervisor or Human Resources Department about all kinds of alternative work arrangements. If your company or organization has not initiated moves toward AWA here is the opportunity for you to submit a proposal and get the topic on the management agenda.

This site has been revised and if you use any of the proposals outlined, there will be a price tag. This is the only link involving money, but there are testimonials which describe the experience of people who have used this material. So read on and make your decision.


Links to Resources About Corporate Child Care

Employers who are considering how to help their employees with child care would benefit from reviewing these sites. The links are divided into two groups, those which place less emphasis on creating actual corporate day care facilities and those who still find corporate day cares to be a valuable resource.


Work Life Harmony Enterprises
As a balance to the information above which places less emphasis on corporate sponsored daycare centres, the following links have more of a focus on corporation connected day care. At some corporations where staff work on shifts, the daycare facilities are likewise available on shifts. At one Toyota plant if the parent is on a night shift, their child in the plant day care facility will experience a "day program" provided during the night, so he/she can sleep the following the same time the parent is sleeping. That service is operated by a group called Bright Horizons Family Solutions.

Bright Horizons
This company currently operates more than 350 centres in 35 states in the USA, UK, Ireland and Guam. They also have a "back-up division" for the times when grandparents or nannies get sick... or there is an unexpected school closing. Even if their services are not available to your company or employees, visiting all parts of the site will show what is possible along with a recording of the results.

This organization provides child care to more than 500,000 children in 9000 sites making it the USA's largest provider of child care services. Referrals to these sites can come from locations operating a corporate Child Care Resource and Referral program. No matter how many hours a child spends in day care, the YMCA continues to emphasize the family as the most important structure in the lives of children. Similar to other links, this information can be used as a model of characteristics and approaches for quality day care.

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