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March, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 3
Flexible work schedules:
what are we trading off to get them?
The 1990s economic expansion not only whisked away decades-long stubborn labor market problems such as unemployment and stagnant wage rates, but also hosted the spread of flexible work schedules. By 1997, in the May Current Population Survey (CPS), more than 27 percent of full-time wage and salary workers reported that they had some ability to vary either the starting or ending time of their typical workday, more than double the rate observed in 1985 .1 Workers tend to regard flexible work-scheduling practices as a valuable tool for easing the chronic pressures and conflicts imposed by attempting to execute both work and nonwork responsibilities. The growing value of such daily flexibility to workers may reflect increases in labor force participation rates of parents, dual-income households, family annual work hours, weekly overtime hours, the premium for additional hours of work, college enrollment rates, and the aging of the workforce.2 Moreover, employers are likely to be turning to flexible scheduling as an instrument for recruiting and retaining employees (particularly those facing a labor shortage climate) and for boosting job satisfaction and labor productivity.3 Yet, the demand for such flexible work schedules on the part of workers appears still to exceed the supply provided by employers.4
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1 Thomas M. Beers,
"Flexible schedules and shift work: replacing the 9-to-5
workday?" Monthly Labor Review, June 2000, pp. 3340;
"Workers on Flexible and Shift Schedules in 1997," BLS News (Bureau
of Labor Statistics, Mar. 26, 1998). For comparison, see Earl Mellor,
"Shift work and flexitime: how prevalent are they?" Monthly Labor
Review, November 1986, pp. 1421.
2 Overtime hours, for which data are available only for production and nonsupervisory workers in the manufacturing sector, rose to a record peak by the end of the 1990s. (see Ron Hetrick, "Analyzing the recent upward surge in overtime hours," Monthly Labor Review, February 2000, pp. 3033.) For an examination of the usually positive earnings premium employees receive for working longer hours, see Daniel Hecker, "How hours of work affect occupational earnings," Monthly Labor Review, October 1998, pp. 818. For a review of increases in labor force participation over the past 50 years and a projection of the aging of the workforce over the next 25 years, see Howard Fullerton, "Labor force participation: 75 years of change, 195098 and 19982025," Monthly Labor Review, December 1999, pp. 312. The recent trend of rising postretirement labor force participation is examined in Diane E. Herz, "Work after early retirement: an increasing trend among men," Monthly Labor Review, April 1995, pp. 1320; and John R. Besl and Balkrishna D. Kale, "Older workers in the 21st century: active and educated, a case study," Monthly Labor Review, June 1996, pp. 1828.
3 For a discussion of pockets of occupational labor shortages, see Carolyn Veneri, "Can occupational labor shortages be identified using available data?" Monthly Labor Review, March 1999, pp. 1521. Evidence relating to the effects of flexible work arrangements on outcomes such as productivity, job satisfaction, and absenteeism is presented in M. Krausz and N. Freibach, "Effects of Flexible Working Time for Employed Women upon Satisfaction, Training and Absenteeism," Journal of Occupational Psychology, vol. 56, no.2, 1983, pp. 15559; R. L. Moss and T. D. Curtis, "The Economics of Flexitime," Journal of Behavioral Economics, summer 1985, pp. 95114; C. Rodgers, "The Flexible Workplace: What Have We Learned?" in S. Lobel (ed.), Human Resource Management, Special Issue on Work and Family, Fall 1993, pp. 18399; T. Clifton, E. Shephard, and D. Kruse, "Flexible Work Hours and Productivity: Some Evidence from the Pharmaceutical Industry, Industrial Relations, January 1996, pp. 12339; T. Scandura and M. Lankau, "Relationships of Gender, Family Responsibility and Flexible Work Hours to Organizational Commitment and Job Satisfaction," Journal of Organizational Behavior, July 1997, pp. 37791; and Boris B. Baltes, Thomas E. Briggs, Joseph W. Huff, Julie A. Wright, and George A. Neuman, "Flexible and Compressed Workweek Schedules: A Meta-Analysis of Their Effects on Work-Related Criteria," Journal of Applied Psychology, August 1999, pp. 496513.
4 For evidence of the excess demand for more flexible work hours and schedules, see E. Galinsky, J. T. Bond, and J. Swanberg, The 1997 Study of the Changing Work Force (New York, Families and Work Institute, 1998). In a 1992 survey, as much as 25 percent of the workforce was found to be willing to sacrifice career prospects in order to attain more flexibility in daily hours of workthis despite the finding that 26 percent of workers surveyed already have such flexibility available on a daily basis. Nearly all workers (92 percent) say that they are concerned with having flexibility in their work schedule in order to take care of family needs, with 38 percent of workers saying that they are extremely concerned and 37 percent asserting that they are very concerned (Work Trends: Americas Attitudes about Work, Employers, and Government (John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University and Center for Survey Research at University of Connecticut, Mar. 18, 1999).)
Current Population Survey
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