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Compressed But Flexible

By Mark Hrywna - August 1, 2013

Formally it’s called the compressed workweek or compressed schedule but it’s more commonly referred to as “Panda Fridays” at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF has about 450 employees in the United States, all of whom participate in the compressed workweek, cramming a 10-day work schedule into nine days. There are about 375 employees in its Washington, D.C., headquarters with other staff in offices in Alaska, Montana and California. Typically, employees work an extra hour on seven of the nine days, but it’s flexible for how staff can reach the required 70 hours over the pay period, according to Elaine Bowman, vice president, human resources.

The compressed schedule was started in 2007 as a summer hours concept, running from Memorial Day through Labor Day. “It was really successful,” she said.

WWF put the policy back in place the following summer, and by August employees were loathe to give up their Panda Fridays after Labor Day. The organization extended the test through Thanksgiving to see how it would go. “It continued to work so well,” said Bowman. “We didn’t see any loss in productivity or the amount of work effort, it was probably the same or higher. We also saw flexibility on everyone’s part,” she said.

“We only continued to see positive benefits in terms of employees’ morale,” said Bowman.

Employees can still access WWF’s offices, which share an office building with other tenants, but it’s more of a weekend vibe, with a security guard on duty and air conditioning set to a weekend-like level. The policy also lets WWF practice what it preaches as a conservation organization. With staff not commuting and the office using less power, Bowman said they are limiting their carbon footprint.

WWF executives and senior leadership are very supportive of the policy. “When we first did it, maybe there was a little uncertainty of how it would work. By the second summer, there was a lot more enthusiasm for it. Then when extended, we weren’t sure how it would work on an ongoing basis,” said Bowman, but there are no plans to change it at this point.

“The first summer we tried it, a couple of different things came into play: recognizing that people here put in long hours and work very hard, it was a nice way to provide a thank you, and motivation for people to have every other Friday off,” said Bowman. “The wider it circulated, the more enthusiasm there was for it.”

There are a small number of people who can’t participate because of their commute or obligations such as childcare. Bowman estimated that about 5 percent of employees don’t participate in the compressed schedule.

WWF has a telecommuting or telework policy that allows staff to work from home up to two days a week. “Many are already set up to do that,” said Bowman. The IT department has set up a system where staff can access electronic databases and email systems as they would if they were in the building. Employees can even take their office phone and plug it into a computer at home, if need be.

“Probably certain jobs have a more difficult time working remotely, like very externally facing ones, those working with donors or corporations, a lot of time spent out of the office, and face to face,” said Bowman.

As with other organizations, there are some jobs that don’t work for telecommuting but can adjust to a shortened workweek, said Bowman, such as operational jobs that require staff to be in the office, such as processing accounting receipts or administrative jobs.

Flexibility comes in the same way, if working with a certain foundation or donor, partner with government, that entity calls meeting on compressed Friday, employees are flexible to attend meetings based on that. Otherwise, employees can do their own thing on those Fridays, like catch up on errands.

Flextime is among the most common benefits found at nonprofits, regardless of size. Nearly half of the organizations that responded to the 2012 Nonprofit Organizations Salary and Benefits Report noted flextime as a general benefit offering, the most popular benefit found among respondents.

The report, a partnership between The NonProfit Times and Roswell, Ga.-based Bluewater Nonprofit Solutions, surveyed almost 1,100 nonprofits of all sizes regarding salary and benefit offerings.

Flextime was among six benefits offered by at least three out of 10 nonprofits in the survey. Free or subsidized parking was the second most popular benefit, 40 percent, followed closely by business casual days, 39 percent. Other popular benefits included association/professional society dues, 35 percent; Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), 31 percent, and full-time business casual policy, 30 percent.

Flextime and business casual days were consistent across the spectrum of budget sizes, with at least 30 percent in every budget category, and in some cases running as high as 53 percent. Telecommuting was available at about one out of every four organizations in the survey, and particularly popular among nonprofits based in the Northwest, at 40 percent.

Keeping employees happy through means other than salary is a critical balancing act for nonprofit managers in general, but especially in the past five years since the economic slowdown began. Some charities are starting to provide a bump in pay after years of wage freezes: The NPT study projected an overall average increase of about 3 percent for employees last year, just slightly less than what executive staff was projected to receive.

Employee salaries at Children’s Aid Society (CAS) were frozen for several years before they started to thaw two years ago. Managers were given about 2 percent in each of the last two years’ budgets to offer modest merit increases to their staff, according to Warren Petty, director of talent management and human resources.

Still, there are organizations that are having a tough time providing raises. Amid continued financial strains, some organizations have turned to bonuses in lieu of increases in employee salaries, which remain frozen. At the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association salary increases have been nonexistent for some five years but it awarded one-time bonuses to employees last year.

The most common benefits for employees in the survey was paid company holidays, offered by nearly 85 percent of respondents, and medical insurance, offered by almost 82 percent of the organizations responding to the survey.

Paid vacation days might seem like a no-brainer, but there must be organizations out there that don’t offer it since about 70 percent of respondents said they do. Paid sick leave, paid bereavement time, dental insurance and a retirement plan all were found to be offered by nearly the same number of organizations, cited by about 64 to 65 percent of respondents.

Among other more common benefits, at least one in four organizations offered charitable payroll deductions, 26 percent; domestic partner coverage, 26 percent; subsidized training/professional development, 25.5 percent, and telecommuting, 24 percent, with one in five offering tuition assistance, 20 percent.  NPT

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