CHICAGO -- Two years ago, the American Woman's Society of Certified Public Accountants, always at the cutting edge of change, surveyed its members to find out how many have alternative work schedules and what they were.
Alternative schedules include part-time work, flexible hours, job sharing, four-day weeks and -- the least common -- work from home.
The study was helpful to working women because it showed that setting your own work-week is possible. But a piece of the pie was missing: What do employers think about a flexible work-week and the employees who want it?
To gauge corporate attitudes, the society interviewed 17 employers nationwide in accounting and other industries.
An important finding of the new study is that firms report they grant an alternative work schedule because it is a business necessity, a result of the increase of women in the work force and the need to attract and retain qualified employees.
"We found most companies are just now evolving their policies, tailored to meet individual needs," said Maryann R. Correnti, audit partner with the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co. in Dallas and president of the 5,000-member American Woman's Society of Certified Public Accountants based in Chicago.
Correnti, who used a "form of flex time" by not scheduling night meetings during two pregnancies, said employers "want you to approach them with a specific plan."
That includes the hours you want to work, compensation and benefits you expect, overtime, promotion, career advancement, job responsibilities, office space and how long you want to be on an alternate schedule.
The study shows that your experience and performance determine whether your plan is approved. And most employers note that a slowdown or tradeoff in career advancement usually is inevitable.
Once alternative schedules are worked out, Correnti said, "Continuing communication is needed to make it work. If things aren't going well, ask to revise it."
The Meridian Bank in Reading, Pa., incorporated flexible hours in 1983.
"We have a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. workday," said Sherri K. Sacco, vice president of human resources. "But start-time and stop-time can be negotiated."
So far, only women workers have used the schedule.
"They come to us with an outline of what they can do and how they can manage their jobs that's the starting point," said Sacco, whose company is a subsidiary of Meridian Bank Corp., which has 6,700 employees.
"The advantage for us is we get our business needs met and at the same time retain people," she said. "The company realizes employees have lives outside work that also place demands on them."
The accounting firm of Shinners, Hucovski and Co., in Green Bay, Wis., is "very open" to alternative work schedules.
"We have a seasonal business, with concentrated work January through April," said Kathryn M. Kwaterski, managing partner in charge of human resources. "Then work slows down in the summer and picks up in the fall."
The firm's "most popular" flexible schedule is working full-time in winter, taking time off in the summer and working school hours in the fall. Currently, seven employees have alternative schedules.
"There's cost to us in administrative time, but our payroll costs are lower and the workload is covered," Kwaterski said.
For a free summary of "Alternative Work Schedules," write the American Woman's Society of Certified Public Accountants, 401 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.