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Flextime Bids Fond Farewell To the 9-to-5

By Meghan Collins Sullivan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 5, 2004; Page F01

Jim Malone wasn't sure what he was going to do when the company where he had started working only nine months before told its employees that his division would be moving from Pennsylvania, where he lives, to Delaware.

His commute to work had turned from a short hop into a 60-mile drive.

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So Malone, a senior finance manager at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, worked out a flextime plan with his boss.

"It's definitely give or take with your manager," Malone said. "If we didn't have [the arrangement], it would be a real struggle for our family."

Flextime -- which can include coming in and leaving the office early, a compressed workweek in which an employee has all or part of Friday off, a reduced work schedule or even telecommuting -- gained in popularity during the Internet boom of the late 1990s. As employers were trying to attract talent in heavy demand, they began offering this benefit, among others, to potential employees.

AstraZeneca says many of its employees use some form of flextime, but a lot of companies don't offer a formal plan to employees, for varying reasons.

"I think it's still viable, but it's less in use today than a few years ago," said Brian Clapp, head of the Philadelphia office of Right Management Consultants. "It's all about the supply and demand of talent."

According to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the nation's 99.6 million full-time wage and salary workers in May 2001, 28.8 percent claimed some form of flextime arrangement, with about one-third of them saying it was as part of a formal company program.

But now that the curve has shifted, with more bright people looking for jobs than the supply of positions out there, workplace experts say many companies seem to be putting less emphasis on this benefit.

However, they don't expect the perk to go away altogether, and they still sense that deals are being cut with some people -- here and there.

"A lot of it goes under the radar; a lot of it doesn't get documented in the statistics," said Lisa Levey, director of advisory services at Catalyst Women, a nonprofit organization that works to promote women in business.

But there are factors that contribute to the use of flextime beyond whether a company offers it -- especially for women -- including the fear that others will perceive them as less committed to their career if they have an alternative schedule, according to experts.

Of 948 senior executives at Fortune 1000 companies, only 15 percent of women and 20 percent of men thought they could use a flexible work arrangement without jeopardizing their careers, according to a Catalyst Women survey conducted last month.

Even if a company offers a flextime benefit, there are times when the staff doesn't consider it a real option -- especially in certain industries, such as law and accounting, Clapp said. "It's an idea that you're either on or off the track. The expectation is that you have to be in the office because this is how we do it."

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