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A Schedule Change Could Be the Key to More Engaged Workers

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

HR professionals and employees alike tend to refer to a typical office schedule as one that runs from 9-to-5. But I don't know anyone who works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Do you? That would mean no time for lunch if you work an eight-hour day. And, even if your official schedule does generally fall between these times, salaried employees often work more hours just to get the work done.

For a long time, these set schedules have been the norm—at least for white-collar work. But times are changing, and organizations are increasingly offering more flexible schedules to attract and retain a talented and diverse workforce. For instance, many companies allow working parents to adjust their hours so they can pick up their kids from school or get them ready in the morning. Remote work is also becoming much more popular.

But even though some companies today offer more flexibility than they did in the past, many have been slower to innovate.

Strict Schedules Are No Longer Sustainable

The issue of employee schedules might not seem like that big of a deal, but the ripple effects are serious.

According to a survey by Quickbooks, 18 percent of workers say their schedule harms their health, contributing to a lack of sleep and an increased level of stress. For example, an employee who commutes to and from work during rush hour might experience higher anxiety than if they were to travel during off-peak hours. Meanwhile, sitting at a desk all day can be detrimental to one’s physical health. You may have heard the phrase, "Sitting is the new smoking." That’s because research shows that sitting for extended periods of time increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Beyond health concerns, working from 9-to-5 is just becoming less popular among employees. According to that same survey, 41 percent would prefer a different schedule.

This stat isn’t necessarily surprising. One person's schedule preferences may be completely different from those of the person sitting next to them. Take what time someone prefers to get up in the morning, for instance. (Our biology has a lot to do with it.) Any parent of a teenager will tell you that dragging kids out of bed is a daily chore. We don't all automatically become early birds when we hit 25. Some people are going to be night owls forever. If you naturally stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. every night, it is awfully difficult to get up at 7 a.m. every morning. And doing so doesn’t benefit anyone: Workers who are groggy and overtired likely won’t turn in their best work, which isn’t good for business.

Luckily, there’s a simple solution: Move away from the more rigid 9-to-5 workday.

The 9-to-5 Alternative

Making this change will not only improve the employee experience, it will also enhance the quality of work at and overall effectiveness of your organization. One study found that workers with a flexible schedule were happier, healthier and more productive than their 9-to-5 counterparts.

So how can your organization take steps to ensure your employees function better?

First, step away from the ideal schedule trap. Allow employees to work when and how they want—as long as they are doing good work and getting it done on time. The caveat to that, however, is that some teams and departments will require a strict schedule. For example, a brick-and-mortar store requires someone to open up and run the cash register at a given time. But most office jobs don’t require a set schedule.

Still, you want to make sure team members are spending some time together throughout the day so that they can meet and collaborate with one another. Create core business hours that appeal to multiple peoples’ schedules. If Employee A likes to get into the office at 6 a.m. and Employee B wants to come in at 10 a.m., they can still meet between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Other employees will prefer to operate under what’s called a "split schedule." This is especially helpful for parents who can't come in until the kids are on the bus, but would like to pick them up after school at 3 p.m. as well. With work-from-home capabilities, employees can work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then log on from home from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. after the kids are in bed. This type of break is also healthy—our bodies and our minds are not designed to focus for eight hours at a time.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to employee satisfaction, but introducing more flexible schedules is one way to show workers you value their time and overall well-being. Work with employees to determine what type of schedule makes the most sense for them. After all, a well-rested, happy employee is a productive employee. And the more engaged your workers are, the more successful your business will be.

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