My Take: Flex work should be an employer perk, not an obligation

As someone who commutes on average two-to-three hours every week day, I was grateful when past employers have allowed me to work from home, start and end work earlier or later, or use overtime as lieu time.

Their accommodation motivated me to work harder because I felt appreciated as an employee. Like with any relationship, it was a matter of give and take.

But, while I do think it’s a great idea for employers to offer flexible working hours as a benefit, I don’t think they should be pressured to consent to employee requests. That onus may become a reality if the Canadian government’s proposal to bring in the right to request flexible working arrangements goes through.

Read: Liberals launch flexible working consultation

Earlier this week, the Liberals opened public consultations about flexible working in the first step to amending the Canada Labour Code. The proposed amendment would give federally regulated employees the right to request flexible working arrangements from their employers.

I think providing that entitlement is similar to opening Pandora’s Box. It will unleash chaos on organizations, which will be left with a long list of questions. These include:

  • Which employees will, and will not, be accommodated?
  • What are valid reasons for requiring flex hours, and how is validity determined?
  • How will this impact the work environment?
  • How will it affect productivity?
  • How does the employer hold people accountable?

Read: Which U.S. company is best for flexible working?

Because organizations will be left to grapple with these questions, it only makes sense for the government to leave the decision-making to them.

In fact, many companies are already providing flexible hours. A Vodafone study released earlier this year found 75 per cent of global employers are providing some kind of flexible working arrangement.

Additionally, while offering flexible hours has many benefits, it comes with some drawbacks as well. For instance, a report published by the Association for Psychological Science last year found working from home is only beneficial in small doses. The study concluded that people who telecommuted more than 15 hours a week actually reported a decrease in job satisfaction.

Read: 75% of global employers offer flexible working

There’s also a question regarding accountability. I’ve heard of people who choose to sleep, watch Netflix or make grocery runs when they’re supposed to be working. That’s not to say everyone who works from home slacks off, but it remains a valid concern for organizations that are paying people for their time.

Lastly, when employees are physically absent it affects the work environment. Yahoo chief executive officer Marissa Mayer drew ire in 2013 when she banned telecommuting for the company’s employees, but her reasons made sense. She wanted to foster collaboration in the workplace, and I do agree that sometimes the best ideas come from discussing them with a colleague over lunch or in the hallway.

Read: My Take: Menstrual leave is good, but flexibility is better

The atmosphere in the office is affected by not having a full team on board. How do you bolster motivation if half of the people are not there? Can managers incite the same amount of inspiration through email? What about the disgruntled employees who are not afforded the same privilege?

Taking all of this into account, it’s no wonder I’m still a skeptic about the government’s recent move.

Jann Lee is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.