ADAPTATION OF FLEXITIME IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR

Flexible working time is a new style of work condition which has its root from the German word Gleitzeit which means “sliding time”. It may be defined as a variable work schedule which allows persons to fulfill their obligations outside a rigid framework of time. Flexitime allows an employee to choose the time when he will start work and when he will finish but with a core time when everybody must be present which is normally a period of four to six hours in the middle of the traditional work schedule(Rubin,1979).

Flexitime has been basically categorized into three types namely, gliding or variable time where the employees can change their arrival and departure time whenever they want as long as they are present for a core period of time. Flextour also allows workers to change their arrival or departure time but they must specify in advance when they will arrive and depart for a period of one or two weeks. Here also there is a core period to cover. A third type of flexitime is a completely flexible one where there is no core period. Employees can come and depart as long as a cover a set number of hours per week or per month(Estes,1990).

A basic model of flexitime may be summarized as below:

A bandwidth which is the earliest time at which employees start work up to the latest finishing time (e.g. 6.00 am to 6.30 p.m).

A core time within which all employees are present at work (e.g. 10.00 to 12.00 a.m and 2.00 to 4.00 p.m). In fact it is management who usually set the core time whereas the flexible time is decided by the employee based upon mutual consent (Nadler et al,2010).

A flexible band of hours during which the employees might vary the time of starting work in the morning and/or the time of quitting work in the afternoon .

Banking, which permits the employees to accumulate excess or shortage of hours worked.

The introduction of flexitime in the Public Sector has been a subject of big debate since a very long time. Various studies have been done on this subject in many countries. Nowadays, many organizations are in a state of change and given the rapid development in the business environment worldwide, the need for managing employees effectively was never as significant as it is today. Moreover, increased globalization, technological evolution, new laws and regulations, changing economic and social environment are all pressing organizations to be more competitive and finding better ways of collaborating and ensuring a harmonious relation between management and employees. Trust has to be built in corporate governance, in business strategies and in the future success of work and also in the skills, abilities and desires of the workforce.

The aim of this paper is to debate on the whole concept of flexitime, also defined in some papers as flexible work arrangements. The objectives of the research are summarized as follows:

Why the need for flexitime

To show the impact of flexitime in the life of civil servants

To show whether flexitime reduces stress and increases job satisfaction and staff morale

To show if it gives rise to more efficient work practices by improving productivity and performance

Seek to analyse whether flexitime helps workers to reconcile work with family responsibilities

Whether flexitime helps in reducing lateness and absenteeism

Whether flextime contributes in reducing the need for overtime

To demonstrate whether flexitime enhances motivation of employees at their workplace

Try to analyse the concept from both a management and employee point of view

Seek to analyse its advantages and disadvantages both to management and to employees

The information has been extracted both from the private and public sectors.

Background and overview

Different studies have been carried out in many countries on the concept of flexitime and each one has come up with its own conclusions. During the 1960’s there was a labour shortage in Germany. ChristelKraemerer then came up with the concept of flexitime to encourage housewives and mothers to join the labour market to address this particular problem. Thus the strict rule of standard work schedule no longer exists where more than 75% of the workforce are for flexible working schedule( Kattenbach et al., 2010). By 1972 the United States had started flexitime on a pilot basis(Rubin,1979). In 2003 the UK government passed a legislation giving the right to employees having children under six or having disabled children under eighteen, to request a flexible work arrangement and by April 2007 the law included this facility to carers of adults(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flextime). William R. Estes had come up with a meta-analysis of the effects of flexitime over a large number of circumstances. He made use of results of previous research articles to demonstrate the effects of flexitime on absenteeism, productivity, overtime costs, leisure/family time, job satisfaction, role conflict, turnover, transport problems, and the desire to continue the use of flexitime. The meta analysis concluded that it was easier to implement flexitime in small organizations than in bigger ones. This is mainly due to the complexity of larger organizations and to the number of employees compared to smaller organizations. It also showed that flexitime increases job satisfaction, reduces absenteeism and abuses on leaves entitlement, improved employee behavior. But, on the other hand it did not have big effect on productivity.

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Flexitime is also perceived as being a modern tool for managing resources more effectively, efficiently and economically(Khamkaya and Sloan,2009). In today’s competitive world people is seen to be one of the key resources which can bring success to an organization(wickramasinghe and Jayabandhu, 2007). In this context, the effective management of human resources is an important feature in the adoption of flexitime in an organization.A study on the implementation of flexitime in the Scottish Local Authorities showed reluctance on the part of employees due to cultural change, inadequate support from the current organizational policy. Changing a long lasting culture in an organization is perhaps one of the most difficult task an organization and management can face. Although there are many benefits pertaining to the adoption of flextime, the success obtained in one organization does not guarantee that it will work in other organisations also. Management, employers perception, employees perception, the working environment will play a big role and will vary from one organization to the other.

Flexitime was introduced in an IT sector in Sri Lanka which put more emphasis on people management. Effective human resource management contribute highly to the realization of capital growth and technological expansion. Some studies have shown that female workers are more in favour of flexitime as it helps them to coordinate more effectively their work and their private life commitments. When both parents are working in a family there is a greater need for flexitime as it enables them to properly handle their family responsibilities and any other commitments they may have for example, the pursuance of higher studies. Employees were all in favour of flexitime and would like to have it in all workplaces. Employers were able to have the trust of employees, their full commitment and increase their potential. Welch and Gordon(1980) had found that flexibility encouraged employees to remain with the same employer for longer. However, the sri Lankan study revealed that this was not necessarily the case. It must be emphasized that the Sri Lankan study is more recent and was conducted twenty seven years later where many changes have occurred in the working environment and conditions. Similarly concerning the gender issue other studies suggested that female workers were more in favour of flexitime, the findings in the Sri Lankan context revealed that there were no significant differences between males and females perceptions. Management systems are modernizing and there is a need to develop strategies like flexitime in a globally competitive environment(Wickramasinghe, Jayabandu (2007)).

Flexitime has also been implemented throughout the Queensland public sector since 1996. But this study revealed that flexitime created much frustrations among employees. This was mainly due to the arising of long working hours and inadequate time off. Employees were allowed to bank their excess hours worked up to a maximum of thirty hours. Some employees accumulated up to 800 excess hours and could not take it as there was a significant lack of staff. But there were other areas in the same organization where staff were able to take timeoff due to to the conscious decisions of managers. Also flexitime caused a decrease in socialization in the workplace as colleagues could not meet their friends as each had his own time of coming and going and taking breaks. There was also lack of proper regulations to monitor the system. The study showed the importance of regulation and good management of the system to increase employee welfare. Although there are great benefits from flexitime it can also have detrimental effects if it is not properly managed(http://www.freepatentsonline.com).

A study on flexitime in the National Health Services (NHS) in UK showed that it brought much happiness to employees. It was studied as an aspect of Improving Working Lives (IWL) standard in an NHS Acute Trust. Over a third of the employees considered the implementation of flexitime as a “give and take approach”. They felt that they have to and they wanted to perform better in return of the advantages they got from the flexible arrangements. They perceived much happiness as they felt that they were well treated and valued and that there was a reduction of stress in their daily lives. However the study had a limited conception. It laid emphasis on only one aspect, that is IWL (Atkinson and Hall, 2011). Sanchez et al.,(2007) have said “Flexibility is a source of competitive advantage. Enhancing flexibility may be costly in the short run, but it gets easier over time. Firms become more flexible because their managers emphasise the importance of flexibility and because they practice being flexible. A self-reinforcing process then begins.”

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The Implementation of Flexitime in the Mauritian public sector

The introduction of flexitime in the Mauritian Civil Service has been advocated since 1993 by the Pay Research Bureau so as to solve the problems of late arrivals in office due to traffic congestion and other family problems. In its report of 2003 the PRB has recommended that subject to the approval of the Ministry of Civil Service Affairs and Administrative Reforms and after consultation with the staff side, Ministries/Departments/Organisations should expedite the introduction of flexitime where demand exist and resources permit. Flexitime would normally not be applicable to certain categories of officers due to the nature of their duties, for example:

Officers operating on a shift system, roster basis and staggered hours

Officers in the manual grades

Officers in the disciplined force

Officers in the education sector

A survey had also been undertaken in this context. The conclusions were that organisations which had adopted flexitime had been effective in combating excessive/regular tardiness. The absence of a computerised system of attendance and additional resources required were one of the major hindrances for its application in other sectors. Lack of supervision was also an issue. Those working in teams also don’t find it suitable to their needs and it was also difficult to evaluate work performed after normal working hours in terms of productivity.

Some Chief Executives have made some favourable observations. They say that flexitime can increase productivity, improve performance and reduce overtime costs if used judiciously and effectively. It can also increase efficiency and improve quality of life of employees. It can also combat lateness and prevent abuse of leave by officers and is a good management tool (PRB Report 2008).

The report has further laid emphasis on the responsibility of management and employees in the public sector.

Management Responsibilities

The PRB has spelt out the responsibilities of management on the application of flexitime as follows:

(a) introduction of irregular workweek whereby employees have early arrival times and late departure times;

(b) ensuring that there is adequate office coverage during official hours and that customer service and work requirements are not adversely affected by employee participation in alternative work schedules;

(c) ensuring that employee participation in alternative work schedules is equitable and consistent across work units within the organization;

(d)complying with all procedural requirements on certification of time and attendance and work schedules

(e) communicating and seeking mutual agreement with the employees on work schedules

(f) planning office workflow to ensure that there is productive work for employees to perform

(g) suspending an employee’s alternative work schedule when workload requirements, temporary duty, or training preclude participation

(h) informing employees as soon as practicable of any modifications in work schedule

(i) making a concerted effort to schedule office meetings during core hours; and

(j) to ensure monitoring and supervision in establishing work hours, prohibit abuses and take corrective measures if abuses occur.

Employees Responsibilities

The responsibilities of the employees on the introduction of flexitime as pointed out in the PRB Report 2003 are as follows:

(a)complying with all procedural requirement regarding certification of time and attendance and work schedules to which they are assigned;

(b)communicating and seeking mutual agreement with the supervisor on work schedules; and maintaining records of daily time and attendance in accordance with office procedures.

Advantages of Flexitime

There are many advantages resulting from the introduction of flexitime. And it is beneficial to employees, employers and management.

The advantages of flexitime from a point of view of management:

Improvement in productivity

With the implementation of flexitime it is felt that absenteeism and turnover are reduced, and job satisfaction is improved in an organisation. Flexitime is also associated with increased productivity and morale and reduced absenteeism.

Overtime

The need for overtime is not felt as employees can manage busy and slack periods. Management can also do a saving on item of overtime. Moreover, completion of lengthy work assignments can be completed without resorting to overtime .

Efficiency

Flexitime can help employees to combine their work and personal responsibilities, and can help workflow to be managed more efficiently.

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(a) domestic matters can be dealt with in employees own time

(b) details of employees time keeping is readily available

( c) the existence of a scheme can act as a positive tool in recruitment

The advantages of flexitime from employee perspective:

Reduces stress and fatigue

It relieves officers of their stress and help them to better manage the balance between work commitments, family responsibilities and lifestyle choices to the advantages of the services. It helps employees to better cope with both the work and the household and child care responsibilities. It also makes travelling easier out of peak hours.

Greater staff morale and job satisfaction

Flexitime promotes happiness — Employees perceive that flexible work schedule brings them joy (Atkinson and Hall,2010). They are also able to vary working time thus enjoying time-autonomy which positively influence performance. This autonomy acts as motivator to job satisfaction. There is also a team spirit and morale is high.

Reduces delayed arrival caused by traffic congestion

Flexitime allows you to schedule your travel and time to avoid congestion

More in control of their workloads and manage a better balance between personal life and work

Allows bank time ( accrued flex balance hours) to be used for leisure/ personal activities. Increased opportunity to fit other commitments and activities in with work, and make better use of their free time. Personal matters therefore can be sorted without having to take time off. Today’s workforce increasingly consists of women and workers in alternative family structures such as single headed and dual earner families. Faced with more pressing demands from both the workplace and home these employees often divide time between these two competing interest. Among those likely to benefit to greater workplace flexibility are prime working age women, women household heads, and employees in two earner families.

Advantages from Employer Perspective

Flexitime takes away the easy audit of who is punctual and who is not. It makes the employee accountable for his own timekeeping and makes rigid timekeeping by the supervisor unimportant.

It shifts focus of management from monitoring of attendances to productivity of the employee.

It leads to joint accountability of workers and management .

Absenteeism is reduced and in many cases the need for overtime is not felt.

Retention of employees who seek flexible work arrangement (Nadler et al, 2010)

Workers feel more responsible to the organisation and an atmosphere of partnership between employer and employee develops.

Although flexitime is the most popular way of varying daily hours it has its limitations, and is not suitable for all job roles and workplaces, and other flexible options may provide better solutions. Flexitime works best, as with all alternative working patterns, as part of a package of options available to help employees balance their work and personal lives and the organisation meet its business objectives.

However, this system has brought some difficulties in the work practice.

The main disadvantages resulting from flexitime are:

Perceived loss of management control

Extra hours of supervision may be required

There is potential for abuse of the flexible work periods

Greater co-ordination of working arrangements is required to maintain cover

Cover is lessened due to additional time off under flexi leave

Staff who cannot be afforded flexible working hours experience resentment

Cost of implementing control systems/equipment

Additional work for personnel/supervisory staff e.g. inputting time credits for leave and adjustments, recording of flexi leave

To what extent the introduction of flexitime can be successful in reality for Mauritius is still a question of big debate. Proper planning is very important. Although the Pay Research Bureau has recommended its implementation but what has been done and what is being done is still under consideration. From the literature review it is seen that all researches which have been conducted in this field there are varying views from different authors. Some have brought forward many advantages and others have noticed many drawbacks. Some employees have derived much satisfaction while others have experienced much frustration especially due to the long hours culture which has developed. Likewise some employers have seen major improvements in the quality of work while others are still sceptical as to the success of this strategy. Some are also fearful that it would lead to anarchy in production and that the costs of implementation would exceed the benefits. Through this paper we will try to analyse a general perception of flexitime in the Mauritian public sector and will it be really successful in our context taking into consideration all the constraints.

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