Time Is a Valuable Commodity for Workers

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Time. I think a lot about time, and not just because it’s the name of the news organization I work for. Like most working people, I find time–or the lack of it–an eternal frustration, an unwinnable battle, the bane of my harried existence. My every day is a race against the clock that I never, ever seem to win.

This is hardly a lonesome complaint. According to the Families and Work Institute‘s National Study of the Changing Workforce, 55% of employees say they don’t have enough time for themselves, 63% don’t have enough time for their spouses or partners, and 67% don’t have enough time for their children.

It’s also not a new complaint. I bet our ancestors returned home from hunting boar and gathering nuts and carped about how little time they had to paint epic battle scenes on their cave walls. The difference is that the boss of boar hunting and head of nut gathering probably told them to shut their traps–or no survival for you.

Today’s workers are still demanding control over their time. Difference is, today’s bosses are listening.

I’ve been reading a report issued today called “When Work Works,” produced jointly by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Families and Work Institute, Institute for a Competitive Workforce and the Twiga Foundation. Those organizations set out to find and award the employers who employed the most creative and most effective ways to give their workers flexibility. The report is a detailed and highly readable look at those methods and policies. I think every boss and HR operative should troll it for ideas.

Check out First Tennessee Bank. The report specifically cites a branch in Chattanooga with 157 employees, “virtually all” of whom have taken advantage of some of the bank’s flex-time allowances, including unpaid leaves of up to 16 weeks and flexible scheduling for tellers. One key practice is an annual survey the bank administers to all of its workers, asking them to rate their managers for their “adherence to the flexibility guidelines.” That way, a supervisor knows that if she insists a team member skip his niece’s wedding to finish a project in time, she’s going to hear about it from her boss.

Why are employers becoming more sensitive to workers’ need for flexibility now? One reason, I think, is that some of them–the evolved ones–can read the demographic writing on the wall. The National Study of the Changing Workforce also found that:

• In 1977, 38% of the workforce was over 40; today, it’s 56%.

• Women make up nearly half of the wage and salaried workforce.

• More households include dual-earner couples: 78% today, vs. 66% in 1977.

Meantime, the pressures of the 24/7 workplace are mounting. As a result:

• 39% of employees are not fully engaged in their jobs.

• 54% are less than fully satisfied with their jobs.

• 38% are somewhat or very likely to make a concerted effort to find a new job in the coming year.

When it comes to time, I think what we want most is to feel fully engaged in whatever we’re doing at the moment–be it designing a pie chart or singing in the church choir. By giving us a little more control over how we spend our time, companies go a long way toward ensuring we’re not timing our exits.