What is a Flexible Work Schedule?

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Definition: A flexible work schedule is an alternative to the traditional 40-hour, 9-5 workweek. Flexible work arrangements provide employees with schedule flexibility, an option to work remotely, or the ability to choose an alternative work arrangement. 

Key Takeaways

  • A flexible work arrangement is an informal or formal agreement between an employee and an employer that provides alternatives to a non-traditional 40-hour workweek.
  • Flexible work schedules allow employees flexibility as to when and where they can work.
  • Employees with flexible work arrangements may be able to work remotely, work a hybrid schedule, or vary their arrival and departure times or workdays.

Definition and Example of a Flexible Work Schedule

An alternative to the traditional 9-5, 40-hour traditional workweek schedule, flexible work arrangements allow employees flexibility as to when and where they can work. Employees who have a flexible work schedule can vary their arrival and departure times, the days and hours they work, or they can telecommute.

For example, an employee might be allowed to arrive between 9-11 a.m. and leave between 5-7 p.m. Or they might be able to work four days a week, if they work longer hours on those days. Working remotely can also be an option when companies offer flexible schedules.

Some companies provide complete flexibility where employees set their own hours. Others may have a hybrid employment model, which is a mix of in-person and remote work where employees can work remotely some of the time but are required to schedule some time in an office.

How do Flexible Work Schedules Work?

In some cases, company policy provides for flexibility and the employee may be able to set their own schedule. Others provide an option for a flexible schedule. The schedule is approved by the employee’s supervisor based upon the needs of the workplace and the employee’s request for flexibility.

Types of Flexible Work Arrangements

A flexible work arrangement can be an informal agreement between an employee and an employer, or company policy may provide formal options for flexibility. The different types of flexible work options include the following:

Condensed Schedule: A condensed schedule increases the hours per day an employee works, so they work three or four longer days, giving the employee an additional day or two off during the week.

Flextime: Employers with a flextime policy allow their workers to choose their own start and end times. 

Hybrid Schedule: A hybrid schedule provides the opportunity to work remotely, combined with in-person time in an office.

Job Sharing: With job sharing, two or more employees share a position to have more flexibility.

Location Flexibility: Location flexibility gives employees the ability to work elsewhere than the main work site. The most common type of location flexibility is telecommuting, but employees may also be able to work out of a branch office, for example.

Part-Time Jobs: Working part-time (less than 40 hours a week) gives employees the ability to work fewer hours in order to have a schedule that fits their other commitments.

Reduced Schedule: Reduced schedules enable employees to work fewer hours than the company’s standard workweek.

How to Ask Your Employer for a Flexible Schedule

If you’re interested in changing your work hours, it’s important to be aware of both the pros and cons from your employer’s perspective. If your company has a flexible work policy in place, there should be guidelines for how to request a schedule change.

If not, you may have to sell your employer on offering you flexibility. That means looking for ways to minimize the potential downside while emphasizing the benefits to the company. It’s important to explain why it would be helpful for your employer if you worked a non-traditional schedule. Some ways to make the case include:

  • Exceed expectations. Managers are more likely to give benefits like a flexible schedule to workers who are already top performers. Make sure you’re surpassing all your goals before you ask. 
  • Suggest a pilot program. Don’t ask for a completely different schedule right off the bat. Try a smaller-scale version at first, to work out the details before you formalize the arrangement. As a bonus, this will also help you determine whether or not you like working on a different schedule — something you won’t really know until you try.
  • Set goals. Coordinate with your manager to set expectations. Will you log on by a certain time each morning, even if they won’t be in the office for another two hours? Will you check in at certain times to evaluate progress and make sure the team’s needs are being met?
  • Anticipate problems. Make sure your request fits your work style before you submit it. If you know that mornings are hard for you, don’t suggest coming in two hours early, for example. Also, think about what (and who) you need to get your job done. If your project partner comes in at 10 a.m., getting an early start might not make sense.
  • Excel at your job. Once you have a flexible schedule, make sure that you get to keep it by doing your job to the best of your abilities. Keep your manager informed and meet your goals, and you’ll be able to take full advantage of your working hours. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do employers have to provide flexible work options?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address flexible work schedules, so there is no legal requirement for employers to offer flexible schedules. Flexible work arrangements are an agreement between an employer and an employee or the employee’s representative. Companies are not required to offer flexibility, but many employers do offer flexible work options.

Can my employer change my work schedule?

Employers can change an employee’s work schedule until the schedule is subject to a prior agreement between the employer and employee or the employee's representative. For example, an employment contract or union bargaining agreement may stipulate what schedule an employee is to work. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has no provisions regarding the scheduling of employees, except for child labor provisions that regulate the hours minors can work.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. SHRM. “Managing Flexible Work Arrangements.”

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. “Flexible Schedules

  3. SHRM. “Tips for Building an Inclusive Hybrid Workplace.”

  4. CareerOneStop. “Flexible Schedules for Work-Life Balance.”

  5. U.S. Department of Labor. “When Can an Employee’s Scheduled Hours of Work be Changed?

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