Flex-Time: Short-Term Benefits; Long-Term...?

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<ul><li><p>Flex-Time: Short-Term Benefits; Long-Term...?Author(s): Glenn W. Rainey, Jr. and Lawrence WolfSource: Public Administration Review, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 1981), pp. 52-63Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Society for Public AdministrationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/975724 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 23:19</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>Wiley and American Society for Public Administration are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve andextend access to Public Administration Review.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 23:19:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=blackhttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=aspahttp://www.jstor.org/stable/975724?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>52 PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION REVIEW </p><p>and Contract Refuse Collection in Kansas City," Solid Wastes Management, 22 (13): 26-58 (December 1979); "Mix- ed Systems for Solid Waste Collection: A Case Study of Akron, Ohio," Center for Government Studies, Columbia University (June 1979). For a discussion of the system in Minneapolis, see E. S. Savas, "An Empirical Study," op. cit. See Eileen Berenyi, David Moretti and E. S. Savas, "A Case Study of New Orleans' Public/Private Refuse Collection Sys- tem," Center for Government Studies, Columbia University </p><p>(December 1979); "Oklahoma City Case Study," Center for Government Studies, Columbia University (April 1980). E. S. Savas and Eileen Berenyi, "A Case Study of Montreal, Canada," Center for Government Studies, Columbia Uni- versity (October 1979). </p><p>9. For a review of the evidence that contract collection is gen- erally more efficient than municipal, see the references cited in footnote 3 above. </p><p>10. See E. S. Savas, "An Empirical Study," op. cit. </p><p>Flex-Time: Short-Term Benefits; Long-Term. . . Glenn W. Rainey, Jr., Eastern Kentucky University Lawrence Wolf, U.S. Social Security Administration </p><p>Flexible work hours are now widely regarded as an inno- vation of proven, universal worth in personnel manage- ment, and the recent legislation permitting their general adoption in federal agencies has already spurred further ex- perimentation. A sizeable body of literature argues that "flex-time" produces improvements in morale, interper- sonal relations, productivity, absenteeism, and turnover.' Variable work hours have even been portrayed as an inter- vention instrument for organization development, in terms which suggest that the benefits are associated with flex-time itself, rather than with conscious efforts by management to increase trust and share influence.' On a more global scale, some analysts point to a growing rejection by workers of unnecessarily rigid managerial controls and suggest that flex-time will produce a major and lasting reduction in worker-manager conflict.3 </p><p>The supporting research is not, however, as firm as its volume might imply. Much of the enthusiasm for flex-time stems from intuitive evaluations in the popular- press and in non-experimental journals. As others have demonstrated, even research which has aspired to systematic methodology has rarely encompassed rigorous research design, measure- ment, or psychometric analysis.4 Key variables associated with task structure and organizational design, managerial styles, socio-economic status of subjects, and related work values and attitudes, have been largely ignored. Critical performance variables such as turnover or absenteeism are often not reported, or are reported without specifying how they were measured. Thus the benefits of flex-time (e.g., improved productivity) have usually been measured by a few subjective survey questions.5 </p><p>This article was written by the above named authors in their own, private capacity. Although the article is concerned in part with certain events at the U.S. Social Security Administration, of- ficial support and endorsement by the Social Security Administra- tion is neither intended nor should it be inferred. </p><p>* Much field research now purports to demonstrate that flexi- ble work hours reliably improve organizational performance, employee satisfaction and productivity, and management/em- ployee relations, but this research usually relies on subjective measures and ignores important dimensions or organizational behavior. In an experiment at the U.S. Social Security Ad- ministration, "flex-time" elicited generally favorable subjec- tive evaluations, but objective indicators of performance and employee commitment produced mixed results and there were tentative signs of declining supervisor/employee rapport. Sev- eral observations, including an unexpected rise in leave usage, suggested that employees valued flex-time principally for re- wards obtained away from the work site. The analysis suggests several points of caution to guide future research: (1) Flex-time may augment the intrinsic rewards of work already enjoyed by white collar employees while reemphasizing the relative attrac- tiveness of domestic life for blue collar employees; (2) The gains observed in prior research may reflect a "Hawthorne" effect and be short lived, and as enthusiasm for flex-time wanes, the alienating effects of problems not remedied by flex- time might reasonably be expected to reassert themselves with redoubled force; (3) Therefore, future research must be extend- ed to encompass the effects of the entire work setting as well as employees' domestic interests; and (4) managers who rely on poorly conceived field research to test flex-time must be pre- pared to encounter unanticipated problems in the long-term. </p><p>Glenn W. Rainey, Jr., is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Eastern Kentucky University. He was em- ployed by the U.S. Social Security Administration under the NASPAA Faculty Fellowship program in August, 1977, and re- mained with SSA until January, 1979. </p><p>Lawrence Wolf has been employed for 12 years with the U.S. So- cial Security Administration, serving in a variety of research func- tions as both personnel psychologist and statistician. His most re- cent educational achievements have been in the doctoral program in measurement and statistics at the University of Maryland, Col- lege Park. </p><p>JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1981 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 23:19:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>FLEX-TIME 53 </p><p>Where validated scales and objective measures of per- formance are lacking, one danger is that the subjectively assessed gains which are achieved may reflect the "Haw- thorne" effect-the desire of subjects to "succeed" under experimental conditions. And indeed, when objective mea- sures have been used, the pay-offs of flex-time for employ- ers have been mixed, and advocates of the form have been reduced to the argument that it has no detectable negative effects.6 On the whole, the long-term effects of flex-time re- main uncertain: gains in expressed satisfaction or subjec- tively assessed productivity have not been proven to en- dure,' and as this analysis will demonstrate, there is reason to temper optimism with concern. Advocates of flex-time have occasionally defended the </p><p>existing research base by arguing that there is too much of it to doubt that something good is happening, but bad re- search cannot prove that which it is not designed to prove, however much of it is done. Even assuming the validity of the existing research findings, there is no reason to assume that the organizations which have adopted flex-time are a representative sample of all organizations. They may, in the jargon of the diffusion of innovations, be "early adopters" whose very acceptance of the innovation marks them as ex- ceptional. As the innovation spreads, the organizations which utilize it may increasingly do so because of external pressure rather than because the innovation is appropriate to their particular circumstances. </p><p>Thus it is appropriate to continue research on flex-time, asking whether its effects are always positive, and seeking to discriminate between those circumstances in which the effects are positive and those in which they may be neutral or potentially negative. This article presents a secondary analysis of data generated during the pilot study and subse- quent general adoption of flex-time in the headquarters of a large bureau of the U.S. Social Security Administration in Baltimore, Maryland. New empirical findings will provide some checks on the reliability of subjective data, will permit a tentative investigation of the association between socio- economic status of employees and the effects of flex-time, and will support some insights for both the manager and the researcher. </p><p>The data to be presented are derived from practical field research and therefore reflect some of the same constraints imposed upon previous studies. Validated attitude scales were not used, and strict rules protecting the privacy of research subjects prevented the accumulation of identifying information which would subsequently have permitted merged files on individual respondents. The analysis is therefore necessarily tentative and speculative in some re- spects. But the research did afford the opportunity to col- lect some hard, before-and-after data on aggregate em- ployee performance, and to explore the significance of col- lective socio-economic status. These are important gains, given the current lack of sophistication in most of the flex- time research. The data can provide evidence to disconfirm prevailing hypotheses, and will support some conjecture about the relationship between flex-time and employee mo- tivation. In them, managers may find reasons to exercise a healthy caution in approaching personnel management in- novations, and researchers may find a basis for generating new hypotheses. </p><p>The Bureau </p><p>The bureau processes claims for health-related emer- gency assistance from the public, keeps records on its cli- ents, and extensively reviews both the continuing eligibility of clients and the accuracy of operations in both the head- quarters unit and the field offices where cases originate. During the study and adoption of flex-time, the bureau headquarters was divided among eight operational divisions and several staff components. One operational division was experimental. It combined all of the functions of the other divisions in relatively small, complete process work groups. The approximate sizes of the divisions are shown in Table 1, in ascending rank by their most common salary grades. </p><p>The physical plant and composition of the work force produce some natural strains for the bureau. About 6,000 employees work in one crowded building with inadequate parking and limited public transportation service. Sixty- three percent of the work force is female, and a majority of </p><p>TABLE 1 Profile of Divisions in the Bureau </p><p>Division (and Functions) Employees Modal Grade(s) Operations services (clerical, mail and files) 1,050 3/4 Payments (preparing, entering, and revising data on clients) 1,500 8 Initial claims (approving some new claims, reviewing others from </p><p>field offices) 425 3/10/11 Process groups (experimental-all functions) 550 All Special inquiries (handling emergency cases and public inquiries) 325 9-11 Continuing eligibility (updating cases: changing eligibility or payment </p><p>status) 650 7/11/12 Work analysis (staff unit in operations) 25 12 Claims review (reviewing completed claims, adjudicating appeals) 650 10/12/13 Staff components (budget, personnel, systems and procedures, </p><p>space and equipment) 600 10-13 </p><p>JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1981 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 23:19:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>54 PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION REVIEW </p><p>these are black, but the distribution by grade level is far from uniform. For example, while females occupy over 80 percent of the positions at or below GS-6, they incumber only about 30 percent of the positions in grades GS- 1 and above. The work itself involves the application of a com- plex legal and policy code, extensive reliance on electronic data processing and computer facilities, and maintenance of large volumes of individual case files and records. Em- ployees are generally required to be meticulous in dealing with details which are not intrinsically interesting. Two fac- tors have historically compensated to assure performance: (1) a commitment among employees to help clients in legi- timate need, and (2) a tradition of "tight ship" supervision, characterized by heavy emphasis on punctuality and atten- tiveness to work. The demanding working conditions, the difficulty of getting to work, and large numbers of lower- graded employees, including many women with small chil- dren, have produced extensive problems with tardiness and absenteeism in recent years. </p><p>Flex-time was approached as a means of reducing the conflict between domestic and work-related demands on the employees' time. Under flex-time, minor domestic problems need not prevent an employee from doing a full day's work and, if reporting times could be dispersed, the transportation and parking problems might be eased. No formal provisions were made for "organization develop- ment" or manipulation of the relationship between super- visors and subordinates. The central interest of the manage- ment was neither to "infuse" the agency with "humanist values," nor to "keep up with the Joneses,"' but to achieve a mechanical adjustment in the interface of the employees' personal and occupational lives. The work flow being func- tionally subdivided to the level of the individual employee, the focus of the experiment was on individual morale and performance rather than team cooperation. </p><p>More general improvements in morale and work-related attitudes were a reasonable expectation, nonetheless. Ex- trinsic satisfactions would certainly be increased to the ex- tent that the new system removed conflicts between job and personal life, but intrinsic satisfactions might also be in- creased both directly through expanded employee auton- omy in planning work schedules, and indirectly to the ex- tent that improved morale in the work place leads to in- creased achievement. </p><p>The Flex-Time Experiment </p><p>Flex-time was...</p></li></ul>