The door is constantly swinging at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Md.: Janet McNichol leaves early some...

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The door is constantly swinging at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Md.: Janet McNichol leaves early some days to take a photography class or watch her sons’ baseball games.

Colleen Glackin ducks out for a few hours in the morning to go to school part time. Arthur Lynch Jr., who commutes more than an hour to work, has been coming in at 7:30 a.m. or earlier for years so he can be home in time to spend the evenings with his family.

“Two kids later, it helps me to have somewhat of a normal family life in the evenings,” Lynch said. “Getting home late wasn’t really an option for me.”

Such flexible schedules have become so popular that experts estimate more than half of U.S. companies offer the perk.

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The growing percentage of women in the work force and the efforts of a new post-baby-boom generation to juggle the demands of work and family are contributing to the trend.

About 86 percent of workers say work/life balance is their No. 1 career priority, and flexible schedules are the work/life benefit they are most likely to use, according to an emerging work-force study by Florida recruitment agency Spherion.

Nearly three of four workers said they are willing to put their careers on the back burner to make time for family, the study says.

Companies and the experts who study them say flexible work schedules help with employee retention and productivity.

Employees agree, saying they can get more done when they work when they are most alert, be it early in the morning or later in the evening. Some workers say they feel so indebted to the company and so thankful their bosses give them family time, that it makes them work harder.

“Companies increasingly are saying to employees, ‘Here’s the work that needs to be done, and you know how you work best, so figure out how to do it,’ ” said Robert Kelley, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

There are some disadvantages to flexible schedules: Some believe the workplace performs an important social function and if workers are there together, they gain more energy and a better exchange of ideas.

Some say it’s difficult to measure whether a worker is being productive with flexible schedules. And co-workers who spend lots of time in the office may feel as if the flexible work arrangements mean more work gets dumped on them just because they’re sitting at their desk every time the boss walks by to hand off something.

Still, many workers and companies say the flexible schedules work to their advantage.

Buddy Trentler, an evaluation consultant at Allstate Insurance in White Marsh, Md., is a morning person, so he chooses to work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. He spends his most industrious hours at his desk, and he is out of work in time to beat the evening crowd at the gym and make it home before dinner to walk his three dogs.

Flexible schedules have become a key recruiting tool. As baby boomers retire, generations X and Y make up a majority of the work force and their priority is a work/life balance, said Jen Jorgensen, a spokeswoman at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.

“Name me a big company, and I’ll almost guarantee they’re doing it,” said David Harrison, a professor of management at Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business Administration.

Whether it’s a compressed workweek — where employees work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days — or flextime — where workers alter their hours during an eight-hour day — workers want to synchronize their work hours with what is happening in other parts of their lives.

This way, they can slip out for a dental appointment, and it won’t conflict with their work schedule.