Flex policy isn't very flexible

1301
 
Dear Joan: 
My company has recently instituted a flexible schedule policy.  Any employee wishing to go to a flexible schedule must get the approval of his/her immediate supervisor, as well as the department head.
 
I have the approval of my immediate supervisor to begin working a compressed workweek (four 10-hour days), but our department head has denied the request.  His reasons are that it's "not a good time for employees to work less in the current economic climate," and by letting me change my schedule, it will "make other employees want to do it, too." 
 
This denial seems unfair to me because of the following:
 
  1. I am not asking to “work less.”  I am asking to work the same number of hours over a reduced number of days.  When I pointed this out to him, he said it will be “perceived as less by our clients and your co-workers.”
  2. Several people in our department (including my supervisor) are working reduced schedules of 30-hours per week in order to have more time with their families.  They are all women with children.  Their schedules were in place (by private agreement with the department head) before the company policy took effect.  
  3. Six months ago (after the flexible schedule policy was in force) another employee, who also works under my supervisor, cut back her hours by half (with no salary decrease) because she's had a baby.  Our supervisor knows she is doing this, but neither of them have gotten approval from the department head.  The department head has no idea that this is going on.  When this co-worker found out I was getting ready to request a flexible schedule, she immediately went to our supervisor, cried, and said that she needed Fridays off to be at home with her baby.  The supervisor has given her the okay to do this, too, as long as she can “get away with it.”   (By the way, I do not have children.)
Until now, in spite of what I feel is bad behavior on the part of the supervisor and co-worker, I’ve managed to have great relationships with both of them.  I have always had excellent reviews, work hard, and am very dependable.  I frequently do work for the department head, as well, and I am positive that there is no hidden reason for his denial of my schedule request that has anything to do with my work habits or personality.      

My supervisor has refused to intercede for me with the department head because she doesn’t want to “rock the boat.”  She is worried that if she helps push for what I want, everyone else will lose what they have.  She has, though, offered to let me “take a day off here and there, without telling anyone.”  That’s unacceptable to me, not only because it’s wrong but because I want a schedule that I can count on in order to do regular volunteer work, take enrichment classes, etc. 
 
I find myself caught between a clueless department head and a supervisor who is encouraging employees to lie/cheat. 
 
My questions:
 
  1. Talking to the department head again on my own is out of the question, and there’s no one above him that I can trust to help/advise me.  This is a great company with excellent benefits, and I don’t want to leave.  There is a grievance procedure, but I’ve never filed a complaint before and the prospect scares me.  I am concerned that a grievance hearing will only earn me the undying hatred of my co-workers and the indelible label of “trouble-maker.”   Is a grievance the ultimate bridge-burning?  Is there another route to take?
  2. Am I being stubborn by not taking the “under-the-radar” days off my supervisor offered me?  Something is better than nothing, but it’s something that I can’t feel good about.  It’s only a matter of time before someone (even if it’s not me) gets angry enough to blow the whistle, and I don’t want to be accused of wrongdoing.
  3. If the best answer is “Do nothing until you can find another job,” how do I cope with the resentment and disillusionment I feel at trying to do the right thing while others are working the system to get what they want?  I already feel so bitter and angry.
Answer:
Your supervisor’s “under the radar” actions are disingenuous—at best. There is no easy way out. By letting employees violate the policy-- that the department head clearly wants to enforce—it is putting everyone at risk. What’s worse, she is bending the rules in different ways for different people. I’m sure you are outraged that you have to pay the price so she and others won’t be “found out”. 
 
What’s worse, your supervisor is letting people cheat the company. She isn’t applying flexible scheduling appropriately. Your request is simply rearranging your 40 hours. In your co-worker’s case she is working half time for full pay and benefits, which sounds like stealing to me.
 
Your supervisor is trying to be the ‘nice guy’ but her actions are insubordinate and unethical—or worse. It’s clear she disagrees with the department head and feels he is being unfair and outdated in his views. (In fact, I agree that he is missing the boat on the benefits of flexible scheduling—when it is applied equitably.)   
 
Because she is cutting all these side deals under the radar, someone is going to blow the whistle eventually—whether it’s you or someone else.  This won’t end well, regardless.
 
Since you have already gone to the department head and been denied, there isn’t much you can do. If you do file a grievance, think through the ramifications and your end goal first. If you want to expose the injustice, a grievance will probably do that. So will a visit to the Human Resources Department. You could ask HR to keep your name out of it and ask them to do their own investigation, but there is never a guarantee that they will honor that. You could write an anonymous letter to HR, which would also trigger an investigation.
 
The department head will investigate and your supervisor will be in hot water. Heads may roll.
 
I think you are right in assuming your coworkers would be angry. Your supervisor would also be angry. In the end, would the policy be more fairly administered? Hopefully, but I suspect the department head would see to it that no one had flex time, so in the end you may not get what you want anyway.
 
Am I saying not to grieve it or write an anonymous letter, or go to HR? No. But in any case there will be ramifications. Even in the case of an anonymous letter your colleagues would probably assume you were the author.
 
I can’t make this decision for you, but one thing is clear. You are an honest employee who understands what is right and wrong. I applaud you for not being willing to cross the line.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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