What Does Flexible Hours Mean?

Updated March 10, 2023

Many companies offer a flexible work schedule to help employees better balance their personal and professional lives. Having flexible hours helps improve productivity and has the potential to increase an employee's job satisfaction. Understanding what flexible hours entails can help you determine whether this type of schedule suits you and your work and personal life. In this article, we define flexible hours, explain how they vary by industry and provide you with a list of the pros and cons that come with this type of work schedule.

Related: Flexible Work Policies: Definition, Types and Tips

What are flexible hours?

Also known as flextime or a flexible work schedule, flexible hours means you have different start and end times for your workday than the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Essentially, having flexible work hours means employees can begin their work earlier in the day or later than the originally set time.

Flexible hours tend to vary depending on a job's requirements, how the business operates within its particular industry and the employee's particular preferences or needs. For example, an employee can set their workday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., 11 a.m.-7 p.m., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. or any other time that suits them. Keep in mind that the hours you work are an agreement between you and your employer.

Related: Flex Time: Definition and Examples

How do flexible hours vary by industry?

Certain industries use flexible hours depending on the nature of the business and its particular needs. While some businesses allow highly flexible hours, others are more restrictive and limit flexible hours to the hours in which the business operates.

For example, in the service industry, flexible hours and schedules often depend on the number of sales during the business' operating hours. Employees in this industry can coordinate or negotiate with other employees regarding the days they work and their particular schedule to satisfy the business' operating hours. In comparison, an information technology company may allow employees more flexibility so long as they complete their projects on time.

Here are some industries and types of jobs that may offer flexible hours:

  • Technical jobs: Graphic designer, project manager, information technology administrator, web designer

  • Media and communication jobs: Copy editor, translator, blogger, marketing consultant, public relations representative

  • Trade jobs: Electrician, mechanic, security guard, delivery driver, carpenter

  • Online education jobs: Tutor, online teacher, substitute teacher, speech-language pathologist

  • Medical jobs: Personal trainer, telecommuting nurse, home health provider, telepharmacist

  • Business jobs: Marketing consultant, sales representative, virtual assistant, business analyst, customer service representative

Related: What Is a Flex Schedule? Definition and How It Works

How often do employees work with flexible hours?

When employees have a flexible work schedule, their employers expect them to work for a required set of hours or, in some cases, more. Here are two types of workweeks that follow a flexible schedule:

Compressed workweek

Rather than a standard five-day workweek, this alternative schedule reduces the number of days an employee works per week. During a compressed workweek, employees tend to work four 10-hour days. This provides employees with an additional day off for greater work-life balance. For example, employees can take Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off, or any other set of three days that best meets their needs or preferences. Employers allow this flexibility so long as the employee gets their work done.

Daily flexible schedule

With a daily flexible schedule, employees can start work early and end their shift early. They can also stay late and start late, or take extra time during their lunch break to make up time. Employers and employees agree upon this type of work schedule.

Other workplaces provide their employees with greater flexibility when it comes to their work hours. This means employees can generally start and end their shift whenever they want, so long as they perform the entirety of their job's duties and reach their goals.

Related: Guide To Flexible Work Schedules

How do flexible hour schedules work?

Once you decide on a flexible schedule with your manager, you're expected to follow a set of flexible hours as your normal schedule. If you work hours outside of your flexible schedule, you need to inform your manager. For this arrangement to work, employees need to put in the time and effort to help accomplish their goals. They also need to deliver the same quality and quantity of work as any other full-time employee.

To ensure this gets done, employers may implement measurable goals and ensure employees understand what's expected of them. Overall, employees and managers need to develop a certain level of trust for a flexible schedule to work.

What are the benefits of working flexible hours?

Depending on your perspective, flexible hours have the potential to offer several benefits for employees. When you understand these benefits, you're better equipped to determine whether this schedule is conducive to your habits and productivity. Here are the benefits that come from working flexible hours:

Greater work-life balance:

When employees have flexible working hours, they have greater control of their workday and can start and finish it whenever they want. This allows them to coordinate their workday alongside their other commitments such as doctor appointments or picking up their kids from school. In other words, it allows employees to find a schedule that fits their personal lives or family needs.

increased productivity

When you set your own hours, you can opt to work during quieter hours of the day. This can improve your productivity and focus as you work through your various duties and goals.

Greater job satisfaction

Having the ability to set your own work hours can help you feel somewhat in control. Feeling in charge can help you feel more inspired and valued at your company. It can also lead to greater job satisfaction which may result in fewer employee turnovers for the company.

Ability to avoid traffic

With a flexible work schedule, you can choose your start and end times around rush-hour traffic. This can avoid wasted time commuting to and from work. If you work from home, you can avoid traffic altogether.

What are the disadvantages of flexible hours?

While having a flexible work schedule presents many benefits for employees, it also comes with several drawbacks. Understanding both can help you make a more informed decision regarding whether this work style suits you best. Consider the following disadvantages of flexible hours:

Difficulty to arrange meetings

If many employees have a flexible work schedule, they likely have different work schedules altogether. When you need to set a meeting time, it can be hard to determine everyone's availability. For example, if you want to have a meeting at 9 a.m., but other employees don't start their workday until 11 a.m., you have to make arrangements accordingly. If you have employees in other parts of the world, it's even more difficult to schedule company meetings with different time zones.

Lack of boundaries

Though a flexible work schedule provides you with a greater work-life balance, you may find yourself in situations where your life may intervene more than you'd hoped. For example, your children may interrupt your meetings or a friend may ask you to get lunch during the day. While you may be able to spare some time for both occasions, if you put off work for too long, it can lower your productivity and overall output of work.

Less structure

You may find that working from home with a flexible work schedule requires more discipline than what's required in an office. For example, without a designated workspace or with chores piling up around your house, you may face more distractions that can take away time from your work. Keep in mind that while you can create a home office and set boundaries to combat this, it's important to find a work style that's most conducive to your productivity.

Difficulty connecting with other employees

When employees have different work schedules, it makes it harder for them to connect and collaborate with their co-workers. Unless they have the same work schedule, it can negatively impact their teamwork abilities and make it harder to feel unified as a company.

How can you ask for flexible hours at work?

If you're interested in following a flexible work schedule, it's important to speak with your manager ahead of time and come up with an effective approach. Knowing the proper steps to take when asking your employer for this type of work schedule can improve your chances of getting their approval. Use the following steps to ask for flexible hours at work:

1. Determine your motivation

Before you ask your employer or manager for a flexible work schedule, make sure you know why you want to shift your hours in the first place. For example, you could decide you want to avoid a commute or you may want to work from home a few days each week to help a family member.

2. Do your research

Your company may already have a flexible work policy in place. To verify this, check with your human resources department. If there's an existing flexible work policy, find out what it entails and determine the pros and cons it presents.

3. Make a plan

Consider what your employer may ask you regarding your desire for flexible hours. Make sure you're able to explain the advantages of a flexible work schedule present for both you and the company at large. Consider the situation from their perspective and provide them with effective answers that show them the benefits that this type of work schedule can provide.

It's also important to consider your answers to any questions they may have and format them in a way that presents this work schedule in a positive light. Also, determine your reasons for asking for this type of schedule and how it works best for you. For example, you can inform your employer about your home office and how you have fewer distractions when you work from home or when you're able to set your own hours. You can also let them know how you plan to continue collaborating or communicating with employees despite your deviation from a regular work schedule.

4. Arrange a meeting or an appointment with your manager

Make an appointment or arrange a meeting with your employer to discuss your hope for flexible hours. Do this in advance and let them know what you wish to discuss.

5. Ask for a trial period

If your company doesn't have a flexible work schedule policy, consider asking them for a trial run before making this type of schedule official. For example, you can suggest a 90-day trial period. At the end of this trial, you and your manager can reassess how well the arrangement worked and determine whether it's worth continuing on a more permanent basis.

6. Excel at your job

Once your manager approves your flexible work schedule, continue doing your job as best as you can. Make sure to maintain and even increase your productivity with your new schedule. Complete all of your tasks on time, meet any deadlines and reach your goals just as you would if you had a regular work schedule.

7. Follow up with your manager

As you adapt to a flexible schedule, work to make improvements. Inform your manager of what's worked and what hasn't. Show your transparency and willingness to make this work or make adjustments to your schedule as needed.

If your manager doesn't approve of your flexible work schedule, thank them for the time they spent talking to you about it. If you feel comfortable, consider how you can best address their concerns and follow up with them again.


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