Personnel officer Maxine Millard no longer "gets ulcers" if she is stuck behind a slow-moving school bus on her way to work. Secretary Pam Deitz can sleep in an extra hour if she's stayed up all night with a sick child, and clerk James Earl Jones gets home early enough to spend the afternoon with his daughter.
"Flexitime is one of the nicest things that can happen in a work environment," says management analyst Linda Stanley, 36, mother of a 5-year-old. "It's so helpful to have some control over your work schedule -- especially when it comes to doctors' appointments, baby sitters and leisure activities."
These employes of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., were among the first federal workers to experiment with flexitime. Under their program, employes can arrive at work any time from 7 until 9 a.m., work eight hours (plus a half-hour lunch) and leave anytime from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
In 1975, the first year of flexitime, the quit rate was the lowest in five years, productivity increased, sick leave decreased by 7 percent and use of annual leave by 1 percent.
Roughly 100,000 more federal employes nationwide will begin experimenting this fall with a variety of alternative work schedules, in compliance with a new law which became effective in March.
"We're going to study two basic kinds of work schedules -- flexible and compressed -- to see how they affect energy consumption, efficiency, service to the public, mass transit and the quality of life for individuals and families," says Ray Kirk, research director for the Alternative Work Schedule Experiment Program at the Office of Personnel Management.
Part of the push toward new worktime arrangements has resulted from the increasing number of working women, according to Fred Best of the National Commission for Employment Policy. When both partners work, "They need more time away from the job to fulfill family responsibilities and pursue leisure activities," he says.
Flexitime, probably this country's most popular alternative work schedule, was developed in the mid-60s by German political economist Christel Kaemmerer in an effort to attract women into the workforce.
The idea came to the United States in the early 1970s and now an estimated 16 percent of all U.S. workers outside the government are using flexitime, according to Gail Rosenberg, president of the National Council for Alternative Work Patterns.
"People want more control over their work life and private life," says Rosenberg. "Flexible schedules provide opportunities to reduce other social problems, too.
"People are more willing to take a chance on public transportation if they know they won't get docked if they're five minutes late, or if they can start working early if they get to the office early. And since people are coming to work at different times there isn't as much traffic congestion."
Flexitime is a great morale booster, according to Oscar Mueller, who coordinated the Geological Survey's flexitime program. "And when you have good morale, it enhances management."
Managers, says Mueller, have benefited from flexitime in a variety of ways. "When everybody comes to work at the same time there's a warm-up period where everyone stands around and talks about baseball or last night's TV programs. But when everyone comes in at a different time this is eliminated and employes are more productive."
"One of my secretaries comes in early and the other comes in late," says personnel officer Maxine Millard. "The phones are covered longer, which is helpful if we're calling offices in different time zones, and more work gets done.
"Working mothers like it because they get their children to school or go to the doctors without using leave time. And it's easier to set up carpools if employes have a flexible work schedule."
Flexitime is an attractive recruitment benefit and abuses are rare, says Millard, who contends that "if you treat employes like responsible adults they will act like responsible adults."
Writing about flexitime in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, Georgetown University Associate Prof. Stanley Nollen says, "Productivity may rise because of better organization of work. Tasks can be more efficiently allocated over the day because of concentration of meetings, telephone calls, and visits into core hours, leaving work that requires concentration to be done at the beginning and end of the working day when there are fewer distractions.
"Flexitime permits workers to accommodate to their own biological patterns. Some people function better early in the day while others function better later on.
"And at the supervisory level, successful flexitime programs require a change from a negative, controlling style to a positive, facilitating style."
"We found that the quality of life for parents in a large urban area like D.C. improved to some extent under flexitime," says Richard Winett, an associate professor of psychology at Virginia Tech who recently completed a National Institute of Mental Health-supported study of flexitime's impact on workers with children.
Some supervisors say flexitime makes it more difficult to set meetings and communicate with employes since all workers are present for just six hours as opposed to the usual eight.
"I have less personal work time," says Peter Bermel, chief of the Geological Survey's Eastern Mapping Center. "As a manager I could count on an hour of uninterrupted work after people had gone home. I miss that, but the work force is far happier, so I accept it as a way of life."
Compressed-time schedules, the most popular of which is the four-day week, also will begin for thousands of federal employes this year. Nearly 900,000 wage and salary workers are already on a four-day work week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"So far our employes have nothing but positive things to say about it," says Sally Marshall, a labor-relations officer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where about 20 craft employes and 90 white-collar workers began compressed-time schedules this summer.
"It's allowed us to have longer hours covered in an office, people who live farther out save on gas consumption and they miss the rush-hour traffic."
"It's like having a Labor Day holiday every weekend," says picture engraver John Wallace, 55, who works 10 hours a day, four days a week.
Engraver Peter Cocci, 34, of Kettering, Md., says, however, that the schedule makes it difficult to take public transportation.
"Transit isn't geared for the later hours and the bus schedules slow down at 6 (p.m.). And it puts a little more burden on my wife as far as helping with the kids' homework since I don't get home until later.
"But it is nice to have that extra day off," says Cocci. "I can get the kids off to school and let my wife sleep. Then we have the whole morning to spend together."
Organized labor has some reservations about flexitime and compressed time since alternative schedules may weaken the ability to enforce the 8-hour day, 40-hour week standard that unions worked hard to effect.
"We prefer flexitime," admits Greg Kenefick, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employes. "The schedules should be the subject of collective bargaining, in the hands of the individual union."
Citing reduced opportunities for overtime and increased possibility of injury during a 10-hour day, Kenefick says, "The opportunity to exploit is always there. But so far, there have been a lot of good results and, by and large, it's worked out well."