The option of flexible hours is a popular one for timestrapped 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 based 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 dealing with work and family concerns, says too many employers ‘‘put more focus on input of time than output and results.’’
The consultant, who has a doctorate in psychology and a master’s in psychiatric social work, is concerned about the effects of stress.
And he knows about it from experience.
Hammes and his wife, Barbara, a speech pathologist, have two children.
He worked in public health in the late 1970s.
‘‘I worked evenings and weekends to get the work done — and was on call 24 hours. I didn’t see much of my wife, family or friends, and the long hours wore me down,’’ he said.
Hammes points out that reports he has studied show that 60 percent of Americans want to work fewer hours.
‘‘There’s not much value to increased income if there is limited time to enjoy it,’’ he said. ‘‘There is a direct and strong correlation between increased hours at work and negative impacts on family life. Too many people don’t have time to be part of their children’s activities, and life goes by them. But they’re making money. All this causes psychological stress. And it’s getting worse.’’
Hammes 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 who has a doctorate in divinity, ‘‘helps people live satisfying lives’’ through her work place consulting firm, Quality Life Training Inc., based in Chicago.
‘‘My approach is to incorporate basic stress reduction into every moment of your life,’’ said Novick, also a community fellow at DePaul University’s Egan Urban Center and a research fellow at Harvard Divinity School. ‘‘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.’’
Novick is training nurse supervisors at nine Chicago area hospitals ‘‘on self-care, how you walk down the hall, how you eat lunch, how you drink water.’’
Her suggestions to relieve pressure during the workday include:
‘‘Slow down the eating process, breathe deeply, walk vigorously and have something of beauty, an element of nature, near you — to reduce stress and take you off red alert.’’