The high cost of strict employee schedules | Mike Cook

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to the Bellingham Business Journal

What is the return on investment with employee engagement? The truth is there is no real return on employee engagement. Engagement is the return on doing the right things and higher levels of engagement correspond with higher levels of profitability.

Here’s a test: let’s say you own a business or manage a group of people. Some of your employees approach you and ask about the possibility of arranging work schedules that have some flexibility. Do you hear threat or opportunity in the request? If you hear threat you are probably biased towards wanting as much control as possible over your employees. If you hear opportunity you are probably biased toward anything that will make the business more profitable.

Does this sound like a gross overgeneralization? It probably is but it is with the intention of making a point. As employers our minds are often locked into patterns that suggest control and profitability go hand in hand. Not so.

Last week I was fortunate enough attend a luncheon meeting sponsored by the Mount Baker Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. The topic was flexible work schedules–not exactly a brand new idea but speaker Dianna Gould took an in-depth look at the potential profitability impact of schedules that produced a win/win for both employer and employee. Wait…I thought flextime was an employee benefit?

Are you aware that the cost for replacing an employee who doesn’t work out is on average 1.5 times their annual salary, with the cost of recruiting, training, and lost productivity factored in? That alone would be enough to have most managers or employers open to considering measures that could encourage good employees to stay by accommodating their scheduling needs.

To be fair, there is a case to be made for flexible work schedules being just an employee benefit, but it is pretty weak. When you throw in the cost associated with replacing an employee this weakness is exposed. When you throw in the cost associated with replacing a really productive employee, it is time to question the motives of the manager or employer who won’t consider flexible scheduling.

Look, if I am a highly capable person who knows my value in the marketplace I have no compunction about approaching my employer to request a work schedule that will allow me to respond to a personal need, especially if it will allow me to continue doing work I enjoy with people I like in an organization I respect.

However, as a highly capable person I know I have options. It might be temporarily inconvenient to find another employer, but I will if there’s no business necessity for the schedule I am asked to adhere to and I have pressing personal considerations.

As is often the case with my writing it may appear that I am exhibiting favoritism towards employees–sort of an anti-employer stance. No! What I am is anti-stupid and frequently I find that employers or managers are either unwilling to reconsider what they think, or unaware of their beliefs.

So here we go–I am going to highlight a couple of websites that contain way more information that I can possibly squeeze into the space I have available.

First, as the manager or employer you need to be able to consider flexible work schedules as a business strategy. Holding it as an employee benefit significantly undervalues the upside to this approach.

Second, watch this little video. It’s about three minutes and I know you have that much time.

Third, spend some time after watching the video to consider whether more flexible work schedules might work in your organization as a practical matter. Maybe there are some schedules that need to stay fixed. Remember, I am anti-stupid and that means don’t go jumping just because I suggest you jump.

Fourth, here are a couple websites where you should spend some time: When Work Works Toolkit –  developed by the Society for Human Resource Management in conjunction with the Families and Work Institude and Life Meets Work – a consulting company’s website with lots of free tools and resources.

Finally, don’t go crazy and turn your workplace upside down. Start slow and, most importantly, convince yourself of the benefits.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He publishes a semi-weekly blog at and also facilitates a monthly business book reading group at Village Books.


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