Variable work schedules: an emerging trend to complement the traditional eight-to-five schedule.

Author:White, Gayle Webb


With the growing diversity in the workplace, there is an increased demand for greater variety in scheduling to meet the needs of diverse groups such as those of the knowledge workers, those of the dual-career family or the single head of household, those of the growing number of seniors desiring part-time work, those of the two new "moms" wanting to share one job, those of the older baby boomers with aged parents for whom they must care, and many other groups. Innovative companies have adopted many types of flexible scheduling programs including job sharing, telecommuting all or part time, compressed workweeks, flexibility in the eight-hour day which allows employees to work their eight hours at varying times, the paid time off bank (PTO), the increased use of part-time workers who retain benefits, and other programs. However, with all of these changes, there is more demand for flexibility in scheduling work than is currently taking place.


    Many forces are contributing to the rapid growth of the variable work schedules. Among these are the impending retirement of the large baby boom population who will begin to reach age 65 by 2010; the knowledge worker, i.e., the computer expert; the need to motivate employees with varying needs, i.e., the generation X'ers; the need to find new ways to compete for the best qualified workforce possible; the widening diversity in the workforce; the need to address needs of the family; and many other forces.

    The way innovative corporations are addressing these forces for change is through many types of variable work schedules. Several of these schedules designed for specific groups are discussed below. There are many populations in the United States workforce who prefer flexible work schedules. These include the temporary worker, the older worker retired from a permanent job, the two new "moms" who want to share a job, the knowledge worker, the overburdened worker, the older baby boomer who must care for aging parents, the person who likes the adventure of working for a temporary agency, and other groups with unique needs.


    The temporary worker has a unique set of needs traditionally. They want "to get new and different work experiences and develop new skills" (Cuesta, 2002). Research conducted by the American Staffing Association found that 90 percent of staffing firms offer free skills training to employees; this includes free training and tutorials on the latest popular software programs. Therefore, this opportunity for training becomes a major appeal and meets the needs of the temporary worker. This need is the major one that motivates a worker to opt to go to work for a temporary help agency where he/she will be assigned to a variety of companies rather than taking a full-time job with one company. Therefore, when a company hires a temp, many times the company acquires an employee who loves continuous training and would be a perfect match for the "learning" organization.

    In addition, people at certain stages in their lives prefer to work for a temporary help agency. Students and women with children were two groups who chose temporary work because of the greater schedule flexibility (Vekker, 2001).


    The older retired worker also has unique needs for which flexible scheduling provides. These older temporary workers value having time for individual development as opposed to professional development (Wellner, 2002). In addition, with the retirement age for those born in 1960 or later rising to 67, those who have not saved for early retirement may have to work during "retirement" (Wellner, 2002). Further, with the increased life expectancy, this group of retirees will need to fund more years of retirement. In fact, the human relations firm, Drake Beam Morin, found that only one percent of workers over 65 listed a raise as a main motivator. Incentives to motivate the older part-time worker will be flexible work schedules, extra vacation time, personal versus professional development opportunities, etc. The Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C. reports that 60 percent of older boomers and approximately two-thirds of boomers now 38 to 47 expect to work during "retirement." These workers may want to "downshift" from senior-level positions to lower-level jobs with reduced work hours and pay (Prince, 2002).

    One company capitalizing on the older "retired" worker is MITRE Corp. This corporation of 5,000 employees provides technology research and development centers for the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service. MITRE enables the older employees to remain in the workforce through phased retirement, part-time work and sabbaticals, and a program named "Reserves at the Ready." This program provides for employees with at least ten years of service to become part-time on-call employees...

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