Are Flexible Hours Helping or Hurting Us?

Are Flexible Hours Helping or Hurting Us? was originally published on Vault.

For better or worse, we can now work anywhere. We carry smartphones and tablets with us everywhere. There’s nowhere our employers and clients can’t reach us. And there’s nowhere we can’t reach our employers and clients.

Some of us like this arrangement. We can get home in time to have dinner with our children. We can meet our significant others and Tinder dates for happy hour. We can attend our daughter’s basketball games, our friends’ engagement parties.

However, some of us don’t like to be forced to reply to emails between the salad and main course. Or text clients back while our daughter’s posting up in the lane. Or excuse ourselves during an emotionally charged candlelit conversation to go over “some very important numbers.”

And so, overall, all things considered, are flexible hours helping us or hurting us? Are they good or bad? A blessing or a curse?

Well, according to some 9,000 professionals who took our latest accounting survey, flexible hours are indeed helping us, are good, and are a blessing. In fact, when we asked accountants to tell us what the best non-monetary perks were at their firms, they told us that their No. 1 perk was vacation time, followed very closely by their No. 2: flexible hours.

And, qualitatively speaking, during the course of our survey, numerous accountants reported something similar to what this Big Four tax accountant told us concerning work flexibility:

During the last month before a tax deadline, the hours are very long, and it gets to be a grind. However, the firm is very accommodating, offering meals and stress relief during the busy time. By far the best part is our flexible work schedule and the ability to work remotely. Many of my coworkers with children are able to work reduced schedules or work from home one to two days per week. The firm really puts an emphasis on family.

Here’s another accountant at a smaller firm (in general, smaller accounting firms are even more accommodating than larger ones when it comes to offering schedule flexibility):

The best part of our benefits is the flex time. This allows you to take care of things that come up in life without having to take vacation time. Also, they offer working from home or flexible arrangements for mothers, which is great.

And here’s a third accountant, at a mid-sized firm, speaking about his experience with flex time:

Balance is extremely important here, and I have the flexibility to have a life outside of work. I have friends in other jobs who have issues doing simple errands like making doctor and dentist appointments or taking their pet to the vet because they have to work 9 to 5 without exception. With the ability to work at home and the flex hours, it's never difficult to get things done.

What can be difficult, though, is to get away from work during tax season. That is, the months leading up to April 15 are so busy that there’s often no room for a day off, let alone a week off. Which is why accountants refer to tax season as the “busy season.” Here’s one accountant speaking about his flex time and vacation time and busy season:

The best aspect of our benefit package is the flexibility. The huge amount of flexibility allows me to attend my five-month-old twins' doctor appointments during the day, and help out my wife when needed. The worst aspect is no vacations from February to April due to client workloads. Some years it would be pretty nice to go on a typical spring break like the rest of the world. But if this is the worst part of my quality of life, I think I’m doing pretty damn good.

This topic of flexibility was also partially addressed this week by the Wall Street Journal. Of interest in the Journal‘s piece is the delineation between those employees who embrace flex time and those that don’t. That is, between the “integrators” and the “separators.”

Integrators, according to the Journal, “allow work and home life to bleed together.” They “toggle between work and home tasks from the moment [they] wake up.” They answer emails “while working out” and “while waiting in the carpool line.” They “get more work done after the children are in bed.” According to integrators, all of this enables them “to be as productive as possible.”

On the other hand, so-called separators prefer to draw a line between home and personal life.

These people want to focus on work when they're at the office and on personal life when they're home. For them, the act of shifting gears saps energy they prefer to devote to relationships, family responsibilities or other pursuits. Some use different cellphones for work and home, to help set boundaries, according to a 2015 study of 285 employees by British researchers. Others keep separate calendars or set “out-of-office” auto-replies on their email after leaving work.

Separately, but related, another thing accountants told us in overwhelming numbers is that even outside of the busy season it can be difficult to use all of their vacation days. So, even while accountants appreciate the generous amount of PTO days that their firms offer, they’d appreciate them a lot more if they could actually use them.

Which is something we’ve heard in the past from accountants, and the reason why, this year, we added a new “Vacation Policy” question to our accounting survey and added a new Vacation Policy ranking. The point of the question (and ranking) is to find out at which firms it’s easiest to use all of your allotted vacation days.

In any case, to find out which firms have the highest rated vacation policies, and which firms topped our latest accounting rankings, check back on April 14. That’s when we’ll be revealing all the results of our latest accounting survey. It’s also, not incidentally, the day before your taxes are due.

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