July 1983 // Volume 21 // Number 4 // Forum

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Flextime: Can It Reduce Turnover and Improve Morale?


Gene C. Whaples
Assistant Directo,CES
University Of Connecticut-Storrs

Poor morale, job dissatisfaction, burnout, and agent turnover continue to plague Extension in many states. Extension administrators and agent professional associations are concerned about these problems as the importance of an enthusiastic, stable faculty to the growth and well-being of the organization is realized.

A 1981 survey of the Maryland county Extension agents and staff suggests that a flexible work schedule policy would improve 4-H and home economics programs, while at the same time reduce burnout and increase job satisfaction.1 If so, then flextime would become a useful tool in reducing turnover of faculty and staff.

Flextime is a management tool that allows an agency to work with employees in establishing workdays and hours that will meet both job requirements and individual preferences. For example, a 4-H agent might not work Mondays, but Saturdays instead. Flextime is not compensatory time. Individuals on flextime work a regular, agreed-on schedule.

The Maryland mail survey was returned by 70% of the 556 county-based agents, aides, and secretaries. A major concern in changing any work schedule policy is the impact it will have on service to clientele. Over6O% of those responding felt a flextime schedule would improve service to clientele, and 70% felt flextime could be adapted for all Extension employees.

Home economists (77%) and 4-H agents (54%) felt flextime scheduling could be adapted to their program area. Nearly all of those working in the agriculture program area felt flextime wouldn't improve service to their clientele. These findings seem to underline the differences in agents' perceptions in clientele needs of the different program areas. Data were also collected from 896 Advisory Committee members (40% return). Findings from this group tended to support the findings from the county faculty and staff.

A flextime policy may be appropriate and productive for home economists and 4-H agents. Other studies have reported that 4-H agents have the lowest job satisfaction and highest turnover. Women employed in 4-H and home economics are often trying to meet the needs of professional careers and the traditional responsibilities of homemakers. These often-conflicting roles create high levels of stress that lead to confIict between the job and home. The demands of the 4-H position for night and weekend work also seem to create confIict and stress.

This situation may be alleviated through a formalized flextime policy. An argument often heard is that professionals don't punch the clock. Many states presently claim their agents can work flexible hours, yet, no formal policies were reported. New agents often don't have the skills or work experience to effectively interpret and use such a loose approach to time management. Some feel that flextime would be impossible to enforce and impractical to manage.

In the Maryland study, 75% of the faculty felt supervision would either not change or would improve under flextime scheduling. Of the employees, 49% envisioned some type of improvement in their own job performance.

A flextime policy may be an answer to providing services to new clientele. Current office hours may be satisfactory for traditional audiences, but not easily available to working women, youth in school, and part-time farmers. Flextime scheduling of both professionals and support staff could provide services to current clientele groups while allowing Extension to serve new groups.

Granted, flextime will create new problems for managers and require careful coordination of staff efforts. But, any new policy that has the potential for expanding and improving programming, increasing morale, and job satisfaction is worth further study.


  1. Yvette Robinson and Gene C. Whaples, "Flextime Study of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service" (College Park: University of Maryland, Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, 1981).