Think About It: OIWC says, make flextime work for you

Wondering how flextime can work for you? OIWC gives insight into the program being adopted by corporations to provide a work/life balance for employees.
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Tomorrow, I’m kicking off my three-day weekend with a camping trip on Angel Island. Working in a small office, I enjoy perks that are but a dream to employees working in most corporate jobs. Encouraged to take off workdays for an additional long weekend or an outdoor excursion, my co-workers and I are always rejuvenated when we return to work.

These health days are part of our company’s unofficial flextime program. Flextime, which can include compressed workweeks, telecommuting and flexible work hours, gained its popularity with the Internet boom of the 1990s. Job perks, including various forms of flextime options, were rampant as employers tried to attract top-tier talent to the surplus of jobs available at that time.

A pioneer in flextime practices is Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and author of “Let My People Go Surfing.” In an excerpt from his book, Chouinard wrote about Patagonia’s work environment, “One thing I did not want to change, even if we got serious: Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time…We all needed flextime to surf the waves when they were good or ski the powder after a big snowstorm or stay home and take care of a sick child.”

Chouinard’s philosophy influenced other company business models. Dennis Loney, previously of Workplace Innovations, a human resources consulting firm, understands the importance of such company programs. Loney has worked on designing customized work plans that combine a variety of alternative work arrangements to keep their clients’ employees happy.

For example, a 2006 REI employee survey showed a shared desire to work in more flexible work environments, and revealed that employees felt they had a lack of work/life balance. Initially launched as a pilot program, Workplace Innovations crafted a Customized Work Environment that offered a range of flexible work options. Since the program’s implementation, REI has been able to better attract and retain talented people, sustain employee satisfaction and productivity, reduce employee commutes, and improve coverage of business operations and availability to their customers.

Last January’s OIWC career satisfaction survey found that 86 percent of women in the outdoor, snow and bicycle industries say that being able to have a flexible work schedule is one of the most important benefits a company can offer them. It’s not just women rallying for flextime either; Generation Y, also known as millennials, is on the same boat. In a 2009 survey conducted by Universum USA (BusinessWeek’s research firm), 60,000 members of Gen Y were surveyed to find almost a unanimous ranking of work/life balance as the most important factor in choosing a job. That’s right, this 20-somethings group, comprised of about 76 million individuals, wants a balanced life.

Unfortunately, unless they work at companies like Patagonia, REI or Facebook, they might not be able to have that. Flextime, in most cases, depends on the supply and demand of employees. Facing a devastating deficit of jobs, flextime programs, too, are at a shortfall. Even at companies with enlightened practices, many employees feel that taking their flextime would put them at risk of a layoff. The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that while 1 in 4 employees are eligible for flextime, only 1 in 10 employees are enrolled in company programs. Looking at those numbers, it sheds light on how important it is for company-wide flextime approval, especially coming from the top down.

Even in the current business environment, however, there are indications that a number of corporations and workers are taking innovative paths to a flexible workplace.

Lisa Watson Burnes worked for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming before moving to Northern California. Since she’s been in the Bay Area, she has found steady work as an in-house PR consultant with JanSport. Working from its headquarters from noon to 5 p.m. four days a week, Burnes is able to pursue other freelance work.

“When I decided to pursue freelance work,” she said, “I was initially intimidated by the flexibility. I worked in a corporation for so long, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to balance everything without being in an office at all times.”

Despite that, Burnes’ transition from the corporate lifestyle to the flexible lifestyle has been positive. She has defined segments of her day that allow her to efficiently work at the top of her personal productivity, either from home or her clients’ offices.

“Having now worked in both environments, I find myself to be much more productive working for myself and proactively managing my time,” she said. “I find that being in an office environment only part time really works for me. I like working with a team, but I don’t get bogged down in the daily trappings of office life.”

In a proactive stance to be savvy to our economic progression, there has been a shift for many business professionals, like Burnes, to reroute their work/life balance. As our economy continues to rebuild itself, there is no doubt that flextime, too, will amend to this metamorphosis. Whether looking for a job, working for a company or starting your own business, flextime can be just as beneficial to the people you work with as it is to you.

Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition is a membership community of professionals in the outdoor industries united to provide power, influence and opportunity for women in outdoor-related businesses and to generate champions to inspire other women. For more information, visit its website at www.oiwc.org.

This monthly column, a partnership between OIWC and SNEWS®, aims to address the issues that concern women in the industry most -- anything that is controversial, topical or newsworthy relating to women and the outdoors. The goal is to help, educate, inspire and grow. We welcome your ideas, gripes, thoughts and comments. Bring it on. E-mail us at oiwc@snewsnet.com.

Devon Sibole is an account executive at OutsidePR, an outdoor-oriented public relations and sports marketing firm in San Francisco.

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