How HR Can Promote Flexibility in Blue-Collar Jobs

When Rachael Sobon, SHRM-CP, started her job as the first
HR professional at CRP Industries 10 years ago, she quickly saw room for

Image source:

Sobon understood that the daily deadlines of a
bustling warehouse required many of the Cranbury, N.J.-based company’s 180
workers to be onsite at certain hours.

There was no provision for taking
just an hour or two off at a time, employees would often take a sick day to run
errands or go to routine appointments. Many would use up their time off by
summer, so when the holidays rolled around, they took leave without pay.
“That hurts the business when we can’t schedule out the manpower,”
Sobon says.

Decades-old policies intended to
ensure proper staffing levels were backfiring, Sobon says. So, with support of
the company’s president, she introduced a paid-time-off policy that allows
employees to take accrued leave in half-hour increments. “Whether they’re
sick or going to a school play or the cable person is coming—it just gives them
flexibility so they’re not stuck in a situation where they have to pretend
they’re ill or make up a story,” she explains.

Sobon also rolled out an option
for employees to work a compressed, four-day schedule in the summer and take
part in staggered work shifts starting between 6:30 and 9 a.m., depending on
the requirements of the job. And because workers are cross-trained in all the
warehouse positions, they can move from one role to another as needed.

Within a year of implementing the
changes, “we basically stopped writing warning letters for
attendance,” Sobon says. “Fast-forward 10 years, and we have
everything online—all of our warehouse employees use the app on their phone, so
on a Saturday or Sunday if something comes up, they can put in a request through
our system to say, ‘I’m going to be off a few hours on Monday morning,’ giving
that manager a little bit of a heads-up.”

Over the past decade, the
drumbeat has been growing louder for more flexibility in the U.S. workplace.
Driven by demand from Millennials—who now represent the largest generation in
the labor force—many employers are offering a range of scheduling options to
attract and retain top talent in a competitive employment market. According to
the Families and Work Institute’s (FWI’s) 2014 National Study of
, more than 80 percent of employers with at least 50 workers
allowed at least some employees to take paid time off for personal and family
needs or to periodically change when they start and end the workday.

Yet experts say there’s a gap
between companies’ stated policies and their willingness to embrace flexibility
in practice, particularly for individuals in blue-collar occupations—jobs that
often involve manual labor and tend to pay by the hour.

According to FWI president Ellen
Galinsky, blue-collar workers are much less likely to have such
flexibility—"which is sad,“ she says, "because [they] need it
most.” After all, working-class employees tend to be those who can least
afford child care and are more likely to be balancing a second job or classes
to advance in their careers. Some obstacles seem inevitable: Plumbers and
electricians can’t ply their trades from home, for example, and certain roles
will always need to be filled at fixed times—such as bus drivers during the
morning rush hour.

HR professionals can lead their
companies in rethinking long-held assumptions about the scheduling of
blue-collar workers. Doing so can benefit both employees and the business.
Generous policies aren’t in place for return on investment, but because it’s
the right thing to do for people.

Allowing employees some
degree of control over their schedules can also reduce unplanned absences, as
the managers of Globe Firefighter Suits discovered nine years ago. That’s when
the 430-employee manufacturer of emergency response uniforms gave its workers
flexibility in their start times.

But how can you keep an assembly
line moving if some people start at 6 a.m. and others don’t arrive until two
hours later?

“That was our objection for
120 years: We were concerned that there’d be a bottleneck somewhere,” says
HR Manager Gayle Troy, who has worked at the Pittsfield, N.H.-based company for
31 years. “What we finally wrapped our brains around—and it was difficult
to get there—is if a particular employee’s job is setting sleeves on fire suits
and she comes in later than everybody else, she’ll come in to some work piled
up at her workstation, but she’ll finish it by the end of the day. So it

So why haven’t more employers with blue-collar workers
adopted such policies? In many cases, they simply haven’t needed to. Companies
are generally most willing to integrate flexibility options for occupations
where there is a labor shortage, according to the research of Ellen Kossek, a
professor of management at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.
Although there will always be a cost to hiring new employees, going the extra
mile to retain workers becomes more important when there isn’t a long line of
applicants ready to replace them. “That’s why you see more experimentation
in nursing than construction—because of the shortage of workers in nursing,”
Kossek says.

HR professionals are in a good position to find
flexible solutions that meet the needs of both employers and workers. A good
place to start is by auditing your company’s scheduling practices, which can
reveal startling gaps between written policies and reality. For example, when
are schedules published for employees to view? How much do hours vary week to
week? What percentage of workers want more hours, and what proportion work
different hours and days each week? “Corporate people are often quite
shocked to know how unstable and unpredictable the jobs are,” Lambert

One reason for the disconnect between what’s on paper versus
what’s being practiced is that companies typically put far more effort into
writing policies than in implementing them. For example, Berg says most
supervisors he has interviewed have received no training on how to manage
issues related to work/life balance. As a result, they don’t know what options
they can offer to employees in different situations.

By providing tools for implementing flexibility, HR can help
managers deliver on the company’s good intentions, communicating to employees
that the organization genuinely cares.

Clear communication starts during hiring. Managers are
upfront about current business needs, and prospective employees share their
needs and hopes. When you have that two-way conversation, “there’s not a
lot of surprises after the fact,” Alvarez says.

As workers’ lives change, managers keep the lines of
communication open and work to accommodate employees’ scheduling needs as much
as possible. “Maybe they’re a student in college, and one semester they
have all morning classes and they ask their manager to work afternoons or
evenings, and then next semester it flip-flops,” Alvarez says. The
supervisor is receptive to the request because she knows it’s coming from a
good employee in whom the company has much invested.

From the interview, hiring process, and training all
the way to employee policies, scheduling, and communication, your HR department
can make or break your business. Having an understanding of your employee’s
lives outside of work and adopting policies that benefit them, have shown to
have a greater benefit for the business as a whole. When it comes to any of
these HR responsibilities, you need people you can trust making the best
decisions for everyone involved. Converge HR Solutions is a team of experts
ready to partner with you, for any and all of your HR needs. To browse our services, visit Contact us directly at or 610-296-8550.

Article source:,%202017&SPMID=&SPJD=&SPED=&SPSEG=&restr_scanning=silver&spMailingID=28344598&spUserID=OTI1NTk1MDUyNzMS1&spJobID=1003157263&spReportId=MTAwMzE1NzI2MwS2


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign Up for Our Monthly Newsletter

white converge hr logo

Reducing time spent on HR operations

Allowing you to focus on growing your business


1055 Westlakes DR, Suite 300, Berwyn, PA 19312

Skip to content