Vacation request management: Selling flexible work hours

Many businesses offer their employees flexible working arrangements, with the expectation that staff will take advantage of the opportunity to be less distracted, better rested, and more involved in their communities.

But many people who are offered flextime and compressed workweeks don’t use them. Why not? Are they afraid their supervisor and colleagues will disapprove? Is their spouse or partner not supportive? Do they not have personal interests that they want to pursue?

HR beach relax

Keep your high performers performing highly by letting them book vacations without feeling guilty. Flickr/Dan..

Understanding why people don’t use the benefits they’re entitled to can help you adjust programs to be more effective, more appreciated, and more affordable.

Researchers at SUNY Albany surveyed nearly 200 American bank and insurance workers, to try to find out what motivated them to use or to ignore the flexible working arrangement they were offered.

The surveys collected information about each employee’s relationships, caregiving arrangements, perceptions of their supervisors and colleagues, and lifestyles, as well as basic demographic information like age, gender, job role, and ethnicity.

The researchers were surprised to find no proof for most of their hypotheses. Perceptions of support for flexible working arrangements from colleagues, supervisors, and spouses didn’t have any statistically significant impact on people’s willingness to use them.

There was also no evidence to suggest that people with an increased caregiving burden (often for young children or elderly parents) were any more or less likely to use their flextime or shortened workweek. This held for both men and women.

The study did find that flexible working arrangement usage increases with job tenure, and decreases with hours worked per week. It also found that lifestyle choices—being a morning person, having a second job, preferring long vacations, etc.—had a significant influence, especially for people who don’t directly supervise others.

But what ultimately is the best predictor of flexible working arrangement use? It’s perceived workgroup use. When people think that their co-workers are all using a benefit program, then they use it too. But if it looks like no one else uses their flextime or compressed workweeks, then most people won’t use them either.

New employees imitate the behaviour of established workers. Over time, this develops into a corporate culture, which can be difficult to change. Modifying “normal” behaviour is tough when people try so hard to “fit-in” at work.

Accommodating vacation requests whenever possible is an important part of promoting an open and flexible culture. People need time to put their feet up. Knowing that their employer allows and promotes relaxation helps them do just that.

Source:  Lambert, A.D., Marler, J.H., & Gueutal, H.G. (2008). “Individual differences: Factors affecting employee utilization of flexible work arrangements.” Journal of Vocational Behaviour 73. 107–117.

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