Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

The Impact of Flexible Scheduling on Employee Attendance and Turnover

Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

The Impact of Flexible Scheduling on Employee Attendance and Turnover

Article excerpt

The Impact of Flexible Scheduling on Employee Attendance and Turnover The implementation of an experimental flexible-scheduling program was the basis for a naturally occurring field experiment. A six-year assessment tests the effects of a flexible-scheduling program on absenteeism and turnover for the division implementing the program as well as a comparable control group. Results indicate gross reductions in employee absenteeism after the flexible-scheduling intervention for the experimental group, while no such changes were evident in the control group. The two-year period after the program ended indicates that absenteeism immediately returned to base-rate levels. The rate of employee turnover, however, was unaffected by the intervention. The concluding section discusses the problems encountered in trying to apply flexible scheduling to a large-scale organization. (*1)

A naturally occurring field experiment became possible when a large public utility company and organized labor agreed to adopt a program to introduce flexible scheduling on a one-year basis in a large subunit. This flexible-scheduling intervention provides an unusual opportunity to observe the dynamics of such a program on selected outcome variables because the program was discontinued after a one-year trial. While the interrupted time-series design with discontinuance of the intervention provides an extremely robust inferential logic with respect to the efficacy of interventions (e.g., Cook and Campbell, 1979), there are compelling reasons why such a discontinued intervention is rarely encountered. Most obviously, there are substantive ethical issues involved. Cook and Campbell (1979: 121-122), for example, noted that an experimenter risks serious demoralization of the work group by removing an effective intervention and that such a study may therefore be impossible to implement, "especially if a deliberate choice has to be made by research personnel to remove an ameliorative treatment." Because this intervention and its subsequent removal were naturally occurring, the removal decision--however ill-advised it may have been--was made by those in an ongoing organization. Whereas it would have been infeasible for researchers to execute such a research design, we have in this case the unusual opportunity of observing the effects of the intervention and its removal.

We provide below an overview of flexible scheduling, employee absenteeism, turnover, flexible-scheduling conceptual linkages, and the design and analyses of this naturally occurring field experiment.

Flexible Scheduling

The objective of the organization's effort was to implement an experimental flexible working-hour program in a large subunit that would enable management to evaluate its potential for future use throughout the entire organization. While the popular press has been enthusiastic about the promise of such programs, most "evidence" for their efficacy has been largely anecdotal. Dunham, Pierce, and Casteneda (1987: 236) concluded that the expected organizational or individual benefits of such programs "either have not been realized or have been kept well hidden from the scientific literature . . . evidence of benefits from such schedules is rare and often contradictory." Others evidently share this view. Pierce et al. (1989: ix) observed that much of the support for alternative scheduling was "unsubstantiated folklore. . . . Overall, the literature on alternative work schedules has been neither guided by integrative models nor characterized by consistently solid research designs."

The flexible-scheduling form on which this research is based is a procedure that allows employees to distribute their working hours. It does not change the total number of hours worked in a day; it does, however, allow more individual discretion as to when these hours are worked. Essentially, the goal is to allow employees maximum latitude in scheduling their hours. …

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