by Mark Powers and Shawn McNalis

Originally appeared in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

Q: Several of my staff members are asking me to provide “flex time” for them. Can you explain what flex time is and why I would want to offer it in my law office?

A: It is important for attorneys — as well as all employers — to realize that time is a precious commodity to everyone. Research reveals that employees — including those in law firms — who have some control over their work schedules are more loyal, committed, innovative and satisfied on the job.

In fact, according to a study reported in Entrepreneur Magazine, 48 percent of workers said they would give up a day’s pay for an extra day off each week. If the reward were two days off, an additional 17 percent said they would consent to a one-day wage reduction.

Time off is a valuable benefit to employees, and one of the ways law firms can provide that time off is through the use of flex time. Flex time enables employees to set a work schedule according to their needs while continuing to work a predetermined number of hours.

There are a few tips to working out a successful flex time schedule for your firm’s employees. You want to be receptive to alternative scheduling options and at the same time make sure that your firm is supplied with an appropriate number of workers at all times. To do this, survey the needs of your team and investigate plans for flex time at other firms similar to yours. Be creative in developing options that will work best for your firm and your employees. Then when you have a solution that you believe will work, test a pilot program.

Here is one example of how flex time could work in your firm: A working parent may come in at 9:30 a.m. to allow time in the morning to drop off a child at school. Then the parent could skip lunch or leave later than other employees to make up the time.

Alternatives to Full Time

In addition to flex time, consider these other alternative work options as ways to offer employees more time off.

  • Compressed work week. 40 hours of work in less than five days.
  • Telecommuting. Working off-site by linking to the office electronically.
  • Alternative staffing. Working on a short-term assignment while employed by either an agency or the firm.
  • Regular part-time. Part-time employment that includes job security, all other rights and prorated benefits available to a firm’s full-time workers.
  • Job sharing. Regular part-time work in which two people voluntarily share the responsibilities of one full-time position.
  • Phased retirement. Retirement using the gradual reduction of full-time commitments over a period of years.
  • V-time programs. Time/income tradeoffs that allow full-time employees to reduce work hours for a specified period of time with a corresponding reduction in pay.
  • Leave of absence/sabbatical. An authorized, paid or unpaid period away from work without loss of employment rights.
  • Work sharing. An alternative to layoff in which a firm’s workforce temporarily reduces hours and salary, sometimes with short-time compensation from unemployment insurance.

Reward With Time

Another way to give your staff more of what they want is by using time off as a reward. Such rewards can be granted for hard work, longevity, helping the firm work more efficiently or just to let employees know they are appreciated. Consider turning some of these ideas into rewards at your firm.

  1. For hard-working employees:
    If your employees finish a task before the deadline, and provide the quality of work you expected, then allow them to take off the remaining time up to the deadline. After finishing a big case, give the people involved the rest of the day off. Start a TGIF Club that allows participants to take one or two Fridays off per month if they produce results that meet or exceed firm expectations. Energize employees with an extra week’s paid vacation when the firm reaches a fixed goal (such as increased billings of a set amount).
  2. For employees who have been around the longest:
    Bump up vacation time in keeping with employee’s length of stay. Offer a three-month paid sabbatical after 10 years of service.
  3. For everyone:
    Grant a holiday off that is not on your list or increase personal wellness days. Shut down for one week at Christmas, with or without pay. Hire a concierge to help employees with personal errands such as booking doctor appointments, arranging events for children and household repairs. Offer a half-day off with pay to employees who recommended a hire who makes it past the 90-day probationary period.

Whether it is a spontaneous free day or a three-month sabbatical, being given the flexibility to take time off when needed is a valuable benefit for your firm’s employees. Find out more about the types of alternative work options your staff may appreciate — if it increases their level of satisfaction with your firm, it will save you time in the long run.

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