Dr. Powell: “Work time flexibility is part of a value system”

Flex time. You’ve read about it, and how it can promote better employee health and well-being. How it can improve your workplace wellness programs, help your employees be more productive and reduce presenteeism. But can it work for you? And how would you implement it? And would management balk at such a radical shift in the workplace?

At the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, we advocate the benefits of flex time to clients that want to improve the culture of health at their organizations. And because we like to walk the walk, we also have our own flex time policy.

We asked our President and CEO to explain how it works, and why it makes life better at AIPM.

WORKING WELL BLOG: When and why did you decide to implement a flex time policy?

DR. POWELL: Flex time has always been a part of AIPM’s corporate culture, and it’s really part of our value system. We use it to meet employee’s needs, attract talent, and retain talent. From the beginning, it’s been something employees and potential employees have asked for, because they had young children, were caring for an elderly relative, or just faced a long commute. It just made sense to me.

WORKING WELL BLOG: Are there any limitations to flexibility in your policy?

DP: We have core hours for full-time employees (10 am to 3 pm) and use of flex time is based on approval by a supervisor. There are times when employees need to be here — during crunch times (like calendar season), or based on sales needs (like availability for west coast hours). And there are ways flex-time is not intended to be used — for example, taking four 10-hour days in order to earn a 3-day weekend.

WW: Do you base your approval on why an employee needs to come in late, take off early or work from home? Going to the gym, vs. picking up a sick kid from school, vs. taking a long lunch to get a manicure?

DP: No, approval is not determined by what an employee needs the time for. I don’t ask, although employees sometimes offer that information.

WW: Did you have any concerns about implementing a flex time policy?

DP: My primary concern was that there would be so many ships coming and going in the night, so to speak. I wanted to make sure there was workplace cohesiveness. It is also easy to feel isolated when you are working from home, and I didn’t want individual performance to suffer. And you lose some level of interpersonal interaction at the office, which is important.

WW: So how do you address those concerns?

DP: Well, the level of flexibility we are able to offer of course depends on the type of work an employee is doing. Our sales force is located all over the country, mostly working from home. Other employees need to be present to get their work done. That’s why we have those core hours.

But it also comes down to the level of trust I have in my employees. Working flexibly and working from home takes discipline. When I worked from home for the American Health Foundation, I would always get dressed first and set strict working hours. If I didn’t trust my employees, it would be a lot harder to implement this strategy.

WW: What positive results have you seen from your flex time policy?

DP: Employees really appreciate it. We’ve been able to retain a lot of great people as a result of our flex time policy — people who I’m sure would not have been able to stay with us without it. It’s a high-value benefit and the costs associated are low.