Sunday, April 20, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Carol Kleiman / Syndicated columnist

Even flextime sometimes won't bend

The option of flexible hours is a popular one for time-strapped employees. It helps you control your life, it costs the employer nothing, and the work still gets done. But even this benefit has a major drawback.

"Flexible hours are a great concept and a lifesaver, but they also create longer days and do not reduce the total number of hours worked — so you still are stressed out even though you are doing things on your own schedule," said Richard Hammes, president of Hammes and Associates, a human-resource consulting firm in Barrington, Ill.

"If you're trying to get balance between work and family life, long hours work against that, and so do many of the policies and cultures of companies that expect you to put in those hours, no matter what."

Hammes, who works with organizations with work and family concerns, says too many employers "put more focus on input of time than output and results."

Hammes says that reports he has studied show that 60 percent of Americans want to work fewer hours. But he says that "in poor economic times, when people will do anything to protect their jobs, long hours are perfect for companies — and companies take advantage of that."

Yet because lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, poor morale, more injuries and high employee turnover are precipitated by employee stress, Hammes says it's up to employers "to implement more efficient work practices that maintain or enhance productivity while reducing hours."

He suggests that employers "look again at flextime and form time banks if employees are working more than 50 hours a week, even those on flextime. Mandate employees take vacation and overtime. Do more effective cross-training so employees aren't so indispensable they have to be there every moment. And confine travel to the middle of the week so that workers can be with their families on weekends."

And what can employees do to reduce stress? Patricia Katherine Novick, a clinical psychologist, "helps people live satisfying lives" through her workplace-consulting firm, Quality Life Training, in Chicago.

"My approach is to incorporate basic stress reduction into every moment of your life," Novick said. "Stress reduction is about the fabric of your life. Put a frog on a hot plate and it jumps off. Heat it up gradually and it dies. Too many stressed-out workers are frogs."

E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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