Are flexible schedules a blessing or a curse?

Flickr user gailjadehamilton

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY A recent study by online storage firm Mozy highlights a common workplace predicament these days:Managers say they believe in being flexiblewith employees, allowing them to deal with personal matters, like dental appointments; at the same time, they also expect their people to start checking their email first thing in the morning.

Is this a blessing or a curse? 

Me, I like the flexible schedule thing. Dentists aren't fond of working Saturdays any more than I am, so I appreciate a boss who doesn't pitch a fit when I send a quick note saying I won't be in until 10:00 because I'm at a dentist appointment. And during both of my pregnancies I was blessed with bosses (different boss for each pregnancy) who never said a word about the numerous medical appointments, along with my coming in late or leaving early. (My doctor's office was an hour away from the office, so quickly popping in and out wasn't an option.)

Super-nice bosses, right? Absolutely. I've been blessed with some fantastic bosses over the years. But the reality is I'm also a person who checks and sends emails right before bed and as soon as I get up in the morning. I've resisted the shift to smartphones, so I don't do emails on the run. By contrast, coworkers are likely to receive an email from me at 5:30 a.m.

So is it worth it? Sometimes it would be really nice to be able to just be done. As in, work is done for today and I'm not going to even think about it until tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.

The trouble with that approach is that the working environment has changed, and I don't think it's going to go back to the time when you could clock out and not think about work until the next day. (Or at least, not be able to do anything about it until the next day.) The laws surrounding workplace pay (Fair Labor Standards Act--FLSA) hasn't caught up with the new workplace environment. So if you're a "non-exempt" worker, your boss should be paying you (and possibly paying you overtime) if you check your email at 6:00 a.m., even if no one asked you to. Tracking that is a logistical nightmare and not reflective of the current work environment.

And while bosses (men more than women, interestingly, according to some research) often don't object to employees who start late or occasionally work from home, this may mean that instead of taking a sick day and lying on the couch watching Ellen, we sit on the couch with our laptops. Is that an improvement?

Have we given up all our down time in exchange for this "flexibility?" Certainly average employee pay hasn't increased in recent years, even though we're not only thinking about work all the time but actually working all the time. (Have you taken a work call while at an amusement park? I have. So has my husband. And judging by the other happy families in the line, many of you have as well.) A day off used to be a day off. Not so much any more.

Still, I'd much rather be able to work from home when the dishwasher repairman is scheduled to come between 1-5 p.m. than have to take a precious vacation day. And I'd prefer to answer an email when the proper response comes to me than have to wait until the next morning, when I've forgotten what I meant to say. 

What do you think -- is flexibility worth the cost of never truly being off work?

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user gailjadehamilton