124 Monthly Lab. Rev. 50 (2001)
Flexible Work Schedules: What Are We Trading Off to Get Them

handle is hein.journals/month124 and id is 270 raw text is: Flexible work schedules:
what are we trading off to get them?
Flexible work schedules are spreading, but workers
sometimes must be willing to increase their hours markedly,
work evening shifts, or switch to part-time status,
self-employment, or certain occupations to get flexibility
in their schedules; this may entail a sacrifice
of leisure time, compensation, or a predictable workweek

he 1990s economic expansion not only
whisked away decades-long stubborn
labor market problems such as unemploy-
ment and stagnant wage rates, but also hosted
the spread of flexible work schedules. By 1997,
in the May Current Population Survey (cps),
more than 27 percent of full-time wage and sal-
ary workers reported that they had some ability
to vary either the starting or ending time of their
typical workday, more than double the rate ob-
served in 1985.1 Workers tend to regard flexible
work-scheduling practices as a valuable tool for
easing the chronic pressures and conflicts im-
posed by attempting to execute both work and
nonwork responsibilities. The growing value of
such daily flexibility to workers may reflect in-
creases in labor force participation rates of par-
ents, dual-income households, family annual
work hours, weekly overtime hours, the premium
for additional hours of work, college enrollment
rates, and the aging of the workforce.2 More-
over, employers are likely to be turning to flex-
ible scheduling as an instrument for recruiting
and retaining employees (particularly those fac-
ing a labor shortage climate) and for boosting
job satisfaction and labor productivity.' Yet, the
demand for such flexible work schedules on the
part of workers appears still to exceed the sup-
ply provided by employers.4
This article examines the association between
workers' access to flexibility in their work sched-
ules, on the one hand, and their various work
and job characteristics, on the other. In particu-
lar, it focuses on the levels of work hours and
the types of jobs that either enhance or dimin-

ish a worker's chances of attaining a flexible work
schedule. While the direction and magnitude of
the trend in average work hours has been a source
of much controversy, it is clear that paid work
hours are growing for many segments of the
workforce.' The trend toward greater flexibility
in hours may be inextricably linked with a polar-
ization of work hours that has become evident
among workers in which one segment of the
workforce may be working longer than standard
hours and another segment shorter or nonstand-
ard hours or jobs, in part to gain access to the
daily flexibility needed to better balance the com-
peting demands on their time.
Research analyses of data from previous May
cps supplements have detected a gradual trend
toward a nonstandard workday and workweek in
the United States. Work is increasingly being
spread out, performed on the fringes of the typi-
cal workday, extending earlier in the morning or
later into the evening.6 Consequently, in 1997,
only 54.4 percent of employed nonagricultural
workers over age 18 worked a traditional 5-day
workweek on a fixed daytime schedule.7 The pro-
portion working a 35- to 40-hour standard work-
week was 29.1 percent in 1997, compared with
31.5 percent in 1991 and is considerably lower for
men (decreasing from 29.5 percent to 26.5 per-
cent over the years cited). In 1991, nonstandard
schedules were adopted by workers much more
for involuntary (for example, as ajob requirement)
than for voluntary (for example, to care for one's
family) reasons, by an almost 2-to- I margin. Work-
ing in the evening hours is much more common
among part-time than full-time workers. Neither

50 Monthly Labor Review March 2001

Lonnie Golden
Lonnie Golden is
associate professor of
economics, Economics
and Business Division,
Commonwealth
College, the Pennsylva-
nia State University,
Delaware County,
Media, Pennsylvania.

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