Saturday, April 24, 2010

Innovative Flex Part-Time

20 years ago, when I was in MBA school, there was a lot of talk about what the workplace would be like in the future. Some it is has come true--distributed and virtual teams, and along with that, working from home and flex-time. It's sometimes hard to remember, but flex-time was a pretty new concept 25 years ago, and working from home was almost unheard-of for the average knowledge worker.

Other concepts have not come to pass, such as job-sharing. Very few professional positions are offered on anything other than an full-time basis. The rare concession is usually a reward to retain a valued employee--never something offered to a new hire. I see this lack of flexibility as unfortunate, and hope it will change over time.

I think it would be very desirable if different variations on other than full-time were available. In some cases, that might be simple part-time. A more interesting case, though, would be flexible part-time. I am thinking of an arrangement, for example, where an employee is guaranteed 20 hours per week, but will work as much as 30 hours per week if needed. That is just one example, there could be other variations. For organizations with significant seasonal variation, they might work 40+ hours during peak season. If done right, the flexibility could benefit both the employee and the orangization.

I think norms tend to get in the way of this for exempt employees. But especially as retirement gets pushed out (which I think is a given for most under-50s), this kind of flexibility will become more valuable. Apparently it is popular in the Netherlands
The researchers concluded that — despite the carefully calibrated incentives that economists love so — women work part time in the Netherlands because, simply, they like it that way. It’s easier on the family and promotes a good quality of life. And over time, Dutch companies have gotten the message, and created rewarding jobs for part-timers. 

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