Three Semco Examples That Reveal The Power Of Flexible Hours

When companies form ideas and rules that will define them, many of them tend to stick to the traditional norm of setting rigid working hours. Having set timings does work, and it has worked for many years, but the simple act of giving employees some flexibility in hours can go a long way towards improving their engagement and sense of belonging. Flexible hours, as a corporate concept, defies traditional compulsions to control how many hours employees work and to keep track of it all.

It might seem easier to monitor set work hours, but there is no way managements can control the amount of work that employees do in those eight hours. It’s not so unusual to see employees in conventional companies quitting work five minutes before time or to see that they’re uninspired at work because they’re preoccupied with scheduling their personal work, like going to the bank or visiting the doctor’s office.

Trust Might Be Tough, But It’s Worth It

Flexible hours can help companies avoid this and prevent employees from losing their work-life balance. It not only keeps the employees happy, but the company too - on the long run. Letting people decide when they want to work, where they want to work from and how long they want to work is a great liberty.

It demands a lot of trust on behalf of the company and it’s natural to feel anxious that people may take advantage of such freedom. But, several instances have proved that trust begets more trust and that people become more responsible when given more freedom.

When employees are able to manage their personal and professional responsibilities on their own terms, they become much more engaged at work and feel a greater sense of ownership towards the company. Which is why flexible hours can be a win-win situation for both employees and companies.

Read on to discover three case studies from among Semco employees that demonstrate this point.

How Flexible Work Hours Improved Engagement

Fernanda Lobato, the HR Manager at Semco, lives quite far away from the office in Sao Paulo. If she had to be at the office between 9AM and 6PM, she’d be spending six hours a day in traffic, getting to work and going back home, and that would leave her no time for a personal life.

So, to make sure she can still give her best, she works alternative hours, between 6.30 AM to 3.30- 4 PM. This way, she can be home earlier, avoid the rush hour traffic and spend quality time with her family. She also works from home when needed. The flexible work hours help her maintain a healthy work-life balance, instead of losing too much of her day to traffic.

Very often, having rigid work hours is a practice that has no real impact on the business, but is still enforced through rules or through snide remarks. This not only makes the work environment negative but also leaves employees with no flexibility to plan their day.

But in cases like Loboto’s, flexible hours positively impacted her level of responsibility and made her much more engaged at work. So, instead of people jumping up and leaving work at the stroke of five, many ended up working late out of their own volition. There was no longer any need for managers to keep tabs on their team members and whether they delivered work on time.

In some extreme cases, people were so committed to getting their work done that they were found staying back at the office until 11 pm or even midnight. In such instances, the HR representative had to call and ask them to leave. All this disproves the fear that people will take advantage of flexibility and freedom.

Eight Hours By Default And Lots Of Trust

Companies typically track the number of hours that an employee works through a clock-in, clock-out system. Besides being legally required according to labor laws, this system helps companies keep overtime and the consequent extra compensation under control.

At Semco, this traditional system was replaced by a new system which, by default, recorded that all employees worked for eight hours. The company trusted its employees to modify their hours only when they worked overtime or when they worked lesser hours.

This system was introduced after open and transparent discussions with employees and the necessary internal processes were created to make the system accessible to any employee. The company cafeteria had a computer where any employee could modify their hours when needed.  

This new system, however, didn’t go through without any managerial resistance. There were a number of managers who feared that employees might spin the system and always record extra hours worked to receive more money. But, the Semco leadership didn’t buy into those concerns as they didn’t believe that people would lie to get more money - and, they decided to take the risk.

Overtime, it became evident that people weren’t taking advantage of the system and even the exceptions who did, created no real negative impact on the business. Throughout, the company management was steadfast in their belief that punishing the whole lot for the mistakes of a few would lead to a major dip in employee morale.  

Transforming Negatives Into Positives With Trust

One of the big problems with factories was the ‘boss’ of the unit - a manager or supervisor who was tasked with tracking when people arrived at work. This person decided whether or not employees, who arrived a little late, could start their work. For example, the reporting time was 7 AM everyday and if an employee arrived at 7: 05 AM, they needed to ask this “boss’’ permission to start working and that was the rule.

This rule created a lot of friction among employees and the manager because it failed to acknowledge that factory employees faced the same challenges in coming to work that corporate employees faced - like traffic and other things beyond their control.

Semco understood that all that negativity could be channeled differently. So the manager, who was earlier tasked with controlling people, didn’t have any reason to control them after the flexible hours policy was put in place.

The manager was instead invited to do much more meaningful things like training, developing, following-up with the team and giving them feedback. So all the negative energy that was once spent in controlling people was now focussed on developing the same people.

Reverse Engineer Engagement With Trust

Employees will only be happy with their job in the long term if they have a good work-life balance. Offering flexible working hours is a great way to ensure they maintain their quality of life. When people are able to spend more time with family, and take care of their other responsibilities without worrying about rigid office hours, they tend to become more committed to their work.

Their improved work-life balance will make them happier and more productive employees. All this can only positively impact the company, with employees doing everything they can to get their work done on time, without any managerial imposition.

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