How flexible should you make a flexible work policy?

"I could work up these reports and do some of the payroll stuff at home as well as the office," Bernice Lane told Assistant Plant Engineer Mark Davidson. Lane was one of two clerical employees in the plant engineering department.
By Raymond Dreyfack August 1, 1998

“I could work up these reports and do some of the payroll stuff at home as well as the office,” Bernice Lane told Assistant Plant Engineer Mark Davidson. Lane was one of two clerical employees in the plant engineering department.

Davidson frowned. He didn’t respond favorably to Lane’s request for permission to work at home one day a week.

Lane had two small children. Mrs. Gross, her hired sitter, had decided that caring for the kids every day from Monday to Friday had become too much of a burden. If she couldn’t get Wednesdays off she would have to quit.

Mrs. Gross was great with the kids. Finding a new sitter as good would be a problem, and until Lane was sure she was working out, she would have to stay home with her.

“I can appreciate your situation,” Davidson said, “but your being out Wednesdays creates problems.”

“Like what?”

“For one thing, payroll-related questions can arise any day of the week, Wednesday included. For another, executives in the department or out call requesting information about a report. Or the boss might want a special report at the spur of the moment.”

“Ellen could handle that just as well as I.”

“Unless she’s out sick or something?”

“You could call me at home.”

“The file cabinets and records are all in the office. I’m sorry, it just wouldn’t work out.”

The employee was disgruntled and made no effort to hide it.

“The company always makes a big deal about its family-friendly flexible scheduling policy. Talk sure is cheap.”

She had a point. Davidson sighed. “I can’t make any promises, Bernice. But I’ll discuss it with Mr. Parker.”

Question : What do you think? To what extent should a company inconvenience itself to accommodate an employee?

Parker’s decision: “Okay Lane’s one-day-a-week work-at-home schedule,” Plant Engineer Jim Parker instructed Davidson. “She makes a good point. The company’s family-friendly program gets a lot of publicity. Maybe it’s time to put our money where our mouth is. Lane’s being out of the office Wednesdays won’t break the company.”