October 11, 2012
Flex time is great, but if we're lucky enough to get it, we have to 'bring it'
Everyone talks about flex time as if it's the Holy Grail for office workers, the golden ticket. Flex time allows for better "work-life balance." Flex time is good for morale, saves employees cash, can reduce workers' stress and improve their health, and can help employers by increasing worker productivity and efficiencies.
I've crowed and hyped about flex time in this very column many times.
But we shouldn't assume that benefiting from a flexible work situation -- flex schedules, telecommuting, job shares and compressed work weeks -- comes without a price.
It's whether you recognize that price, and how you manage it, that becomes the key to how flex time helps or hurts your career.
A story Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal previewed a study to be published in December that proves there's a downside to flex time.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management analyzed survey data from 482 employees and 366 managers at a Fortune 500 organization, asking about flexible work policies and looking at performance, salary and job level.
"The key finding: when a manager thought someone was taking advantage of flex policies to do better work, they were rewarded," the story says. "The field study recorded no ill effects when managers saw flex policies as a personal issue, but a follow-up lab test found it made a difference.
"In that study, the researchers asked 156 subjects to evaluate a set of fictional company employees, varying their traits, reasons for using flexible programs and performance reviews. Employees who worked a flexible schedule to accommodate their personal lives were viewed more negatively than those doing so for productivity."
So how do we, as workers, benefit from a flex situation if it is available to us, but also make sure there's no harm to our career due to negative perceptions (or even due to flex affecting our own focus and diligence)?
Be there, even when you aren't. For workers who aren't on site, virtual lines of communication become everything. If no one is seeing you in the office, your hard-working profile hunched over a desk, then they need to "see" you via other means.
Stay connected. Answer emails in a timely fashion, and if you are unable to answer quickly (if, say, you're focused on another project or are trying, as is the trend nowadays, to corral email tasks into certain time blocks of the day to promote focus and efficiency), set up auto-reply.
Utilize video conferencing, chat or messaging to sit in virtually on meetings and talk regularly with colleagues. And remember to connect in person at least some of the time, if possible. We're all human, and we need some face time to build and strengthen relationships.
Own your productivity. Flex time doesn't mean half time (unless it does, but you know what I mean). As workers who have flexibility, we have to be careful to preserve our work hours for work, and to create a schedule, however accommodating, that provides predictability and encourages organization on our part. We cannot try to cram a 40-hour work week into 30 hours.
Be honest about what you can do and make whatever personal arrangements are necessary to deliver on your commitments. Present an organized, professional face to your employer and keep boundaries between your personal and work life when possible.
Self-promote and demonstrate. Working a flex situation can sometimes seem like working on a lonely island. Many workers love this autonomy most of the time, but recall that old saying, "Out of sight, out of mind." Keep your employer informed and aware of your work and achievements.
One way to do this is to send your supervisor or team a weekly email briefly outlining the major tasks accomplished and looking ahead to what you'll focus on in the coming week. This idea originated from Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia Inc., and the basis is that the message should take no more than 15 minutes to write and five minutes to read.
Don't be shy about self-promotion, which gets a bad rap but can be done in an earnest and productive way. Spend some time each week thinking about how you want to be viewed by your employer, team, manager and/or clients, and then allow them to see the ways in which you are supporting their goals and building success.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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