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Various alternative work arrangements exist for use in businesses and other types of organizations; included among the options are compressed work weeks, flexible work schedules, telecommuting, and job sharing. This case focuses on alternative work arrangements in general rather than on a particular one exclusively; however, telecommuting does receive additional attention.
The case revolves around the potential advantages and disadvantages that are associated with alternative work arrangements, and the factors that are contributing to an increased use of various alternative work arrangements by employers. With respect to the various advantages and disadvantage that are indentified in the case, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives. “Organizations that offer flexible working arrangements are, and will continue to be, employers of choice. Employees consistently rank flexible schedules high on their list of desired benefits; employers who are reluctant to offer these popular perks will find themselves falling short in the bidding wars for talent.” The case identifies three underlying factors that are driving the movement toward the increased utilization of alternative work arrangements in many different workplaces. These factors are: (a) the needs, desires, and expectations of workers for greater flexibility at work; (b) fuel costs and fuel consumption associated with commuting, and the related carbon footprint impact; and (c) the restrictive impact of the 2008-2009 economic recession on job opportunities.
The case concludes by pointing out that many nations have experimented successfully with various flexible work programs and some countries have enacted legislation promoting alternative work arrangements. It then poses the question: “Will the United States government and American businesses be adequately prepared to meet future economic challenges, at least in part, by embracing the movement toward increasing use of alternative work arrangements?”
CASE STUDY - Alternative Work Arrangements: Possible Solutions for a Plethora of Problems?
Alternative work arrangements, such as compressed work weeks, flexible work schedules, telecommuting, or job sharing, can have positive and negative consequences for employers and employees. In general, alternative work arrangements can generate beneficial outcomes, particularly for employers, such as “increased employee retention, loyalty and morale; higher productivity; improved recruiting of highly qualified workers; decreased employee tardiness and unscheduled absences; and maximum use of facilities and equipment.” On the employees’ side, telecommuting—one type of alternative work arrangement—has favorable effects on perceived autonomy, the resolution of work–family conflicts, job performance, job satisfaction, and the experience of stress. What is more, it does not harm perceived career prospects or the quality of workplace relationships. On the downside, however, are the challenges associated with making these programs work for both employer and employees: handling issues regarding employee training, work monitoring, and performance evaluation; maintaining lines of communication with bosses and coworkers; and changing the attitudes of managers who might be uncomfortable with anything other than traditional working arrangements.
On balance the positives seem to outweigh the negatives. “Organizations that offer flexible working arrangements are, and will continue to be, employers of choice. Employees consistently rank flexible schedules high on their list of desired benefits; employers who are reluctant to offer these popular perks will find themselves falling short in the bidding wars for talent.”
Although alternative work arrangements can be highly beneficial for both employers and employees, we need to ask the question: “What seems to be the underlying factors that are driving the movement toward the increased utilization of alternative work arrangements in many different workplaces?” One factor reflects the needs and desires of workers. “Many people today are seeking flexibility at work. Parents may want more time for family. Students hope to fit employment into a busy class schedule. And some people look for work after retirement. Whatever their situation, they’re not alone in wanting a job that’s a better match for their lives.”
Younger workers and those nearing retirement age are two particular segments of the workforce that can be meaningfully targeted by employers offering various alternative work arrangements. Younger workers are entering the workforce with different expectations than previous generations of workers. Whereas their parents were work-centric, most members of Generations X and Y give priority to their personal lives; or at the very least they desire to balance their work lives and personal lives. Sharif Khan, vice-president of human resources at Microsoft Canada, says, “Gen X and Gen Y are coming into the workplace with the expectation that they’re going to be treated as individuals, [who] want to be able to fit their life and their work together comfortably, as opposed to focusing on work and dealing with life after the fact.”
Another important demographic group in the workforce consists of those individuals nearing retirement. “Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age. While many Boomers may choose to stretch their retirement date based on some combination of lifestyle choice and recent market developments, many are opting for less-demanding positions or reduced workloads.” “By 2020, 16 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 and over, up from 12 percent in 1999. Yet leaders of many organizations ignore aging workforce issues despite the potential problems they see coming, and some damage seems likely to occur before the issues receive appropriate attention.” “[T]he size of the Baby Boomer demographic group exceeds current graduating classes, and replacing their experience will be a challenge for most firms.”
Increasingly, business and governmental organizations are adopting alternative work arrangements for economic reasons. For example, a May 2008 poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management indicated that 18 percent of responding organizations offered telecommuting in order to help employees with rising fuel costs. Four months later, with fuel prices continuing to soar, the percentage of organizations offering the telecommuting option had risen to 40 percent. In October 2008, when gasoline prices were peaking, Ann Bednarz, writing in Network World, reported that “[g]as shortages in the Southeast United States are prompting companies to consider expanding their telework programs so employees can conserve fuel. Other options workers are weighing include greater use of carpools and public transit, along with alternative scheduling arrangements such as four-day work weeks.”
In addition to the dramatic increase in fuel costs in the summer and autumn of 2008, concerns about global warming and long commutes have fostered interest in alternative arrangements. Moreover, two recession-related factors could lead more employees to seek out long-distance telecommuting options for at least part of their time on the job. First, the slow housing market limits people’s ability to move to new jobs. Consequently, rather than physically commuting a long distance for a new job, part-time, long-distance telecommuting could be an option. Second, the weak job market that has been caused by the recession appears to be increasing the number of commuter marriages wherein the spouses work in different cities. Here too, part-time, long-distance telecommuting might be a viable option.
Many nations have experimented successfully with various flexible work programs; and indeed, some countries have enacted laws to make alternative work arrangements more accessible to employees. Although the United States has not enacted such legislation, the demographic and economic changes that are occurring may result in alternative work arrangements laws that “could play an important role in preparing the U.S. economy for the future.”
Will the U.S. government and American businesses be adequately prepared to meet future economic challenges, at least in part, by embracing the movement toward increasing use of alternative work arrangements?
This case was written by Michael K. McCuddy, The Louis S. and Mary L. Morgal Chair of Christian Business Ethics and Professor of Management, College of Business Administration, Valparaiso University.
Answer the following questions with concepts from the course.
- How can employees benefit from alternative work arrangements? How can employers benefit from alternative work arrangements?
- What are some of the possible negative outcomes for employers and/or employees regarding alternative work arrangements?
- What types of factors are influencing organizations to consider using alternative work arrangements? Explain how alternative work arrangements can address the problems/issues that are raised by these factors.
- Should the availability of alternative work arrangements to employees in the United States be mandated by law? Why or why not?