Much has been written about the advantages of flextime for both employees and employers. However, there are downsides as well – downsides that are seldom mentioned. This is particularly the case for people working in laboratories.
The laboratory is inherently a less safe environment than offices. Flextime can encourage lab staff members to work early in the morning, late in the evening and on weekends. Relatively few coworkers are around at these times. Should an accident occur, there may be little help for injured staff members, staff members available to fight laboratory fires, etc.
The cure for this is to insist that employees be working alone in their laboratories alert others working elsewhere in the laboratory of their presence. Individuals should check in with each other at periodic, fairly frequent intervals to assure that their coworkers are safe and well.< p>Laboratory buildings should be equipped with alarms located in each laboratory room. Ideally these will have a code that will indicate which work area is experiencing an unsafe working condition or where an accident has occurred.
Work – family balance
It is more difficult to draw clear boundaries between work and one's personal life. Flextime often results in people spending more time working. Modern communications enables employees to do so from home, while on vacation or while out of town on business.
Recent research performed at the University of Toronto confirms this observation. Sociology professor Scott Schieman and graduate student Marisa Young measured the extent of schedule control and its impact on work-family processes using data from a national survey of more than 1,200 American workers. Two key findings emerged from their study. First, people with more schedule control are more likely to work at home and engage in work–family multitasking activities. They try to work on job- and home-related tasks at the same time either while at home or engaged in recreational activities. This blurs the boundaries between their work and personal lives. Second, people who report more blurring of these roles also tend to report higher levels of work-personal life conflict - a major source of stress.
This role blurring can reduce the time and energy employees have for their personal lives. According to Schieman, discovering the conditions that predict work – personal life conflict is critical because "a substantial body of social scientific evidence demonstrates its link to poorer physical and mental health..."
Preventing the disadvantages
It requires mental discipline to prevent workplace responsibilities from excessively invading one's personal life. As a lab manager, designate substitutes for your employees who are on vacation. Require your staff members to brief coworkers on their activities and issues that may arise while they are on vacation. Leaving out-of-office e-mail and voicemail messages can enable them to alert those trying contact them just whom they should contact instead and informing them when they will be back at work.
Staff members should have the discipline to shut off their cell phones and not check their e-mails for periods in which they are engaging in family or personal activities. Without an understanding supervisor, this can lead to stress. However, maintaining frequent and extended contact with coworkers and colleagues at other companies means one does not experience the relaxation and metal rejuvenation that vacations are supposed to provide.
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