Adopt Work Alternative Policies for State Employees

State agencies should adopt policies to allow employees more flexibility in their work hours and work situations.


Background
Increasing numbers of working mothers, single parents, elderly family members requiring care and other trends have caused the issues of family and work to become intertwined. Greater flexibility in the workplace allows organizations to manage time, space a nd people more effectively in times of economic flux and social change.

The advantages of alternative work schedules include improved employee attitudes and morale, increased productivity, reduced tardiness and absenteeism, decreased traffic problems and pollution and lower employee turnover. In a labor market that has grown s teadily more competitive, flexible work schedules provide a way to attract and retain skilled employees. Since recruitment and retention are major concerns in the public sector, Texas should consider altering its employment policies.

As part of its Renaissance Project, the Comptroller s office has made work alternatives a priority for review. The Comptroller hopes to create changes that will yield documented savings and benefits, such as increased morale and reduced turnover, sick leave and office space costs. Through d emonstration projects and pilot programs, the agency hopes to achieve results that can be shared with other agencies. The following work alternative options seem particularly promising:

Telecommuting sends the work to the workers instead of sending the workers to work. This option allows employees to perform their duties at an alternate site, often through the use of a computer and a telephone modem. Telecommuting offers employees an excellent opportunity to complet e tasks requiring long periods of concentration or quiet and allows employers to save on office space costs and attract more potential employees.

The State of California has a telecommuting pilot project under way that involves 150 telecommuters from 14 a gencies. The project has demonstrated a significant potential for reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and energy use. In addition, telecommuter work effectiveness has fulfilled or exceeded expectations, while enhancing the employees quality of work life, particularly for those with disabilities.

In this pilot study, participating agencies had to make very few purchases of special equipment; in some cases, state computers were provided to workers, while other employees either used no computers or t heir own equipment. The private sector has already developed and tested selection, training and evaluation tools to help ensure that telecommuting projects are successful. 1

The Texas Water Development Board, motivated by limited office space and budget constraints, began investigating telecommuting in August 1992. A pilot project, to be implemented in calendar 1993, will measure the direct and indirect costs and benefits of t elecommuting, to determine whether broader application of the program is desirable.

Flextime work schedules permit flexible starting and quitting times within limits set by management. Generally, the flexible periods are at either end of the day with a core time in midday during which all employees must be present. Flextime requires a standard number of hours to be worked in a given time period, usually 40 during a five-day week.

Job sharing provides a reduced work day that typically allows two employees to share the work, responsibilities and benefits of a single, full-time positio n. Work times, as well as prorated compensation and benefits, are agreed upon in advance by employees and management. Job sharing could allow valued workers to adapt to changing family situations, such as the birth of a child or the care of an elderly adul t.

A compressed work week allows employees to schedule job duties around family responsibilities or other interests by completing a full week of work in less than five days. For example, some employees might prefer to work in four ten-hour days or four ni ne-hour days and a half day on Friday. As with flextime, compressed work weeks normally revolve around a set of core hours when all employees are required to be at work; typically, this alternative has 75 percent of the staff working at all times.

Voluntary reduced work time allows employees to reduce their work hours to less than 40 per week with a corresponding reduction in salary and benefits. This tradeoff allows full-time workers flexibility to work with family illness, the birth of a child or other temporary situations. Some employers offer this option to workers returning to college or to employees nearing retirement.

Phased and partial retirement alternatives allow older employees to reduce their work commitments before full retirement. Such reductions either take place gradually over a specific number of months or years (phased retirement) or for an open-ended period of time (partial retirement). These options provide older workers with a middle ground between full-time work and full retirement t hat can help cushion the shock of retirement. Senior workers whose skills and experience are difficult to replace are retained, but their reduced work schedules permit younger employees to advance more quickly within the organization.

Early retirement also can benefit both the state and the employee. Another recommendation in this report suggests more specific early retirement options for the state.


Recommendations
A. State agencies should explore opportunities to save office and parking space by providing telecommuting options to certain employees.

B. State agencies should examine opportunities to implement flextime, job sharing, compressed work weeks, voluntary reduced work time, phased and partial retirement or early retirement options to expand employee flexibility and minimize the adverse effects of turnover and absenteeism.

Another recommendation in this report would establish an office within the General Services Commission (GSC) to provide certain centralized personnel services such as mediati on and employee assistance programs and job application sites. This central personnel office could be charged with compiling information on work alternative efforts under way in state agencies, including their costs, benefits and the number of affected emp loyees. This office also should recommend other work alternatives to the Legislature.


Implications
These recommendations would help meet the changing needs of the state s work force. By granting more flexibility to employees, the state could reduce turn over, retraining and office space costs while improving employee morale. This option also could expand employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and improve environmental conditions by reducing traffic congestion, pollution and energy use.


Fiscal Impact
The actual fiscal implications of this recommendation cannot be estimated since it is impossible to predict what approaches other agencies would take or under what circumstances.

Studies show that telecommuting more than pays its way, and that after initial training and planning costs, benefit-to-cost ratios could exceed 20-to-one. 2 In some cases, telecommuting could require the state to purchase modems and/or provide for adequate call-forwarding, answering machines or voice mail, but these are not always required for a successful telecommuting program.

All of the recommendations above could lead to reduced state costs over time. Initially, state agencies should see enhanced employee morale, reduced absenteeism, decreased use of sick leav e and vacation leave, decreased tardiness and reduced turnover. Turnover costs are generally believed to be 1.5 times the departing employee s salary; however, it is not possible to estimate how much turnover could be avoided from having such policies in place. 3



Endnotes
1 State of California, Department of General Services, The California Telecommuting Pilot Project Final Report (Sacramento, California, June 1990).
2 Ibid, p. 4.
3 J. Douglas Phillips, The Price of Turnover, Personnel Journal (December 1990), p. 58.