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Work on a flexible schedule

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Flexible work schedules help people juggle work and family responsibilities, making them happier with their jobs which can be measured in increases in productivity and morale and decreases in stress, absenteeism, and burnout. Simultaneously, the planet benefits from these work arrangements by fewer cars on the road, drops in greenhouse gas emissions, and decreased rush hour traffic jams.

How to work on a flexible schedule

Flexible scheduling can be accomplished with a few different strategies, all with similar eco-benefits:

  • Flextime: Allows employees to vary their start and stop times around core hours; some may work 8:00 to 4:30, others 9:00 to 5:30 etc.
  • Compressed work weeks: Employees work fewer but longer days: four 10-hour days per week or 9-hour days with one day off every two weeks.
  • Staggered shifts: This option doesn't give employees much say so over their schedules but the advantage is that they don't waste time and fuel sitting in traffic as they might if all employees poured out of work at the same time.

Regardless of which flexible schedule you opt for, you'll need to discuss the terms with your employer (assuming you don't work for yourself!). It's easiest to do this when you're new to a job, but even seasoned staffers can approach the boss with a flexible work schedule request. Some companies have flexible scheduling policies in place and others approach scheduling issues on an individual basis. Here are a few tips to winning the flexible schedule discussion:

  • Get background information: First, ask your HR representative of a flexible scheduling policy is already in place. If not, ask around to determine if any other employees have flexible arrangements. Talk to them and you might gain insight that can help you.
  • Develop a pre-proposal: Before you go in for "the talk", think through the pros and cons of flexible hours for your job and come up with contingencies to take care of the negatives, i.e. who would handle your responsibilities on your off day or uncovered hours. Then put it all on paper so you have your talking points set.
  • Educate your employer: It might be helpful for you to politely inform your employer of the benefits of flexible schedules. For instance, a 2006 survey of 10,000 US workers found that if given a choice of benefits, aside from salary, 33 percent would choose a more flexible work schedule.[1]
  • Be flexible: If your workplace lacks a formal scheduling policy, you'll want to approach the discussion with flexibility in mind. This will help ensure you consider all possible scheduling options, even if it's a small change to start. If your boss seems skeptical about your proposal and you fear you're going to get turned down, suggest a trial period of three months.

Just remember: flexible work week's eco-benefits may be less if you choose to drive on non-work days (though generally during off-peak hours), break up existing carpools, drive solo, or move farther from your job. Make your flex-schedule commute the greenest possible by walking or cycling, taking public transit, or sharing a ride with a co-worker.

Working on a flexible schedule helps you go green because...

  • It takes cars off the road which means fewer global-warming tailpipe emissions.
  • It decreases the number of cars in peak rush hour times, reducing traffic congestion.

Commuters waste 2.3 billion gallons of fuel sitting in traffic tie-ups, a situation that flextime and staggered shifts can improve by cutting the number of employees on the roads at rush hour.[2] Compressed work weeks, for instance, reduce vehicle travel and cut the time and energy spent on commuting by 20 percent when you substitute five eight-hour days for four ten hour days.[3] That reduction can add up since commuters drive 27 percent of total vehicle miles and every day passenger cars release a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air and burn 8.5 million barrels of oil.[2][4]

The way employers set up flexible scheduling programs can affect whether there is a rise or decline in employees using public transit and carpools. A case study of employees in Ventura County, California, found that after flextime and compressed work weeks were instituted, carpooling increased from 8 to 13 percent.[5]

A study of more than 3,000 employees who used flextime at the TransAmerica Financial Corporation in Los Angeles showed that over two-thirds of them chose to start work before 7:30 a.m. to avoid city traffic. Another study found that workers with flexible work schedules shaved seven minutes a day off their commutes.[6]

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