In a Recession: Flex Time Is Sexy

7 years ago

So many working women have yearned and fought for flexible work arrangements over the years. Will forced flex time, as a strategy for job retention and cost cutting, pave the way to more flexibility in work arrangements for the long term?

We've all heard of friends or colleagues having to work mandatory four-day weeks or take a 10-50% cut in hours (and corresponding salary) to keep their jobs as companies struggle with cash flow and pray for economic recovery. For many people it is an unwelcome compromise because of the resulting loss of funds, but for others it is a blessing, because it is the very flexible work arrangement they have been trying to pursue unsuccessfully for years. Suddenly it is acceptable and even celebrated for employees to voluntarily work less and thereby earn less, enabling companies to retain them as employees while also helping the bottom line.

Mommy Tracked talks about the facts of this new trend in "Flex-Time=Job Retention + Cost Cuts".  She cites work-life expert Sylvia Ann Hewlett from her New York Times article regarding the KPMG initiative Flexible Futures (essentially voluntary flex time with pay cut):

The program was hugely successful. Over 80 percent of KPMG’s professional employees (men and women) volunteered to take one of the flexible options. This allowed KPMG to achieve its goal of retaining jobs while cutting costs.”

The success as I see it is likely a combination of people who yearned for this arrangement before but couldn't beg, borrow, or steal flex-time because it wasn't face-time and those who felt pay cuts beat pounding the pavement looking for a new job. Either way it sets a precedent that flex time can mean success for both employee and employer.

This technique is being used in some unlikely places. In "Reduced Hours as an alternative to Layoffs?"  the Project for Attorney Retention talks about this trend within the legal industry and the challenges of offering nonstigmatized reduced-hour schedules in a profession in which reduced hours are typically equated with career death.

Call me cynical, but I don't see this new trend as a sudden acceptance of or desire to honor the wishes of employee needs nearly as much as a palatable way to cut costs with less slash and burn. Yet the optimist in me wonders if setting this precedent now will make it easier in the future for employees to negotiate flexible work arrangements. After all, we had all this massive flex time going on and the companies still succeeded, therefore flex time or working from home didn't cause the world as we know it to collapse. Novel concept.

While it is far too early to tell if this "flex time as acceptable survival" strategy yields a friendlier flex-time environment post-economic recovery (I'm sure we'll have our fingers on the pulse of this at BlogHer), it certainly has opened up the conversation a bit wider. No longer can an employer say "we don't do that here" or "we can't set a precedent," because in many cases the precedent has been set by these creative job retention offerings.

As someone who created a precedent where there was none at several prior employers when it came to telecommuting, I am here to tell you that if you don't ask for what you want, the answer will always be "no." Here are some time-tested resources to support you in negotiating a flexible arrangement on your own terms that benefits all involved:

Whether you really want a flexible arrangement or not, if nothing else it is an opportunity to hone your freelance mindset which as I've written about before is not just for freelancers.



Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and business coaching for women to help you gain the confidence you need to create more money and meaning in your personal and professional life. Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom & Experience Greater Confidence" at her website

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