Work-Sharing Policy as Flex Alternative to Layoffs Gains Steam, BUT Implement Strategically

As long time readers know, I’ve been a loud proponent of using flexibility in the form of reduced schedules, furloughs, telecommuting, job sharing and flex scheduling to minimize layoffs since the beginning of the recession.  And since the recession started two years ago, some innovative employers have indeed incorporated this more flexible approach to managing costs and resources into their downsizing strategy.

But more employers haven’t followed their lead because there wasn’t the incentive to move beyond the knee-jerk “cut” response that is rewarded, at least in the short-term, by the market (here and here).

As the internationally recognized management expert, Jeffrey Pfeffer, pointed out in a recent Newsweek cover story, “The Case Against Layoffs,” unless your industry is disappearing, layoffs do much more harm than good.   Thankfully it looks like an incentive to seek an alternative to layoffs has arrived, and not a moment too soon as early indications are that mass layoffs may be inching up again after a brief hiatus.

According to an article in today’s USA Today entitled, “Work-share program that cuts hours vs. jobs could grow,” work-sharing legislation may expand to more than half the states by year-end and provide employers the incentive they need to think differently and more flexibly:

“Seventeen states already have programs in which employers can cut the hours of all or most employees in lieu of layoffs. The workers get jobless benefits to recover part of their lost wages.

Work-sharing lets employers avoid the costs of severance and of training new hires when the economy rebounds. For workers, it eliminates the trauma of layoffs and helps preserve morale.

The number of employers in the programs soared last year as the recession deepened and the jobless rate climbed to 10%. A record 166,000 jobs were saved in the 17 states that offer the option vs. 58,000 in 2008, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies…

The Gear Works of Seattle, which makes gears for wind turbines, sliced workers’ hours 20%, skirting layoffs for about 15 of 93 employees, says executive Mike Robison. Machinist Robert Foster, 38, who worked four-day weeks for 10 months, says, ‘I like it vs. the alternative.’”

And our research has confirmed that employees do prefer flexible downsizing to the alternative.  Most respondents to our nationally-representative 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study said they would accept a change or reduction in schedule, or take a cut in pay to save their jobs.

Work-share legislation can provide the much-needed incentive, but for flexible downsizing to succeed it can’t be a one-off  “program.” To be a strategic lever for managing through the recession, it must be implemented, reviewed and revised as operating realities change.  Here are some important insights and resources to help the strategic implementation process taken from previous blog posts I’ve written on the subject:

As Recovery Simmers, Limit Lagging Layoffs with Flexible Downsizing (Not Just Furloughs)

One Year Later–Flexible Downsizing and Hard Choices Post-Recession, Pre-Recovery

Get Started Tips to Navigate Post-Recession, Pre-Recovery Flexible Downsizing.  Highlights of the advice include:

  1. Go back and assess where you are.  Know where you stand in the business.
  2. Once you have the facts on paper, reset the organization’s flexible response to match today’s realities.
  3. Reframe and communicate the business case behind either the continuation or discontinuation of any type of flexible downsizing in the post-recession, pre-recovery era.

Finally, to help leaders work through a cost-benefit analysis of layoffs versus a more flexible approach to downsizing, I joined with a team of work+life experts to develop a tool  entitled  “Flexible Rightsizing as a Cost-Effective Alternative to Layoffs.”

Today’s news that work-share legislation is gaining steam across the country is very welcome.  However, for organizations, leaders and employees to truly benefit from the more flexible approach to managing costs and resources it must be implemented, review and revised thoughtfully and strategically.

What do you think?  How important is this legislative incentive to encourage a more flexible alternative to job cuts?

Fear–Challenging Work+Life Fit Roadblocks (Day 3)

Raise your hand if you’ve muttered or thought “Yeah, but…” or “What if…” as you read the posts from Day 1 and Day 2 of the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” series.  If you did (and chances are that you did), then you’ve officially hit a fear roadblock.

Fear roadblocks litter the work+life fit process from beginning to end.  Whether big or small, they will sneak up and derail you unless directly challenged.  Today, Day 3, we tackle your work+life fit fears.

If you’re stuck behind a “Yeah, but…” or a “What if…,” I can’t simply tell you not to be afraid, especially in this economic environment.  It won’t work.  And I can’t say that all of your fears are completely groundless, but I can help you challenge them as they come up, by:

  1. Showing  you “how:” I will give you a process for challenging the validity of a particular fear as being real or imagined so you can keep moving forward and
  2. Sharing and challenging the most common fears: There are three common work+life fit fears that have come up consistently during my 15 years of helping companies and individuals partner to develop and implement work+life flexibility strategies.  You will probably recognize them.

“How to” Challenge Fear Roadblocks

Excerpt from Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“I was once part of a corporate work/life consulting project in which more than 100 employees who successfully found a better way to fit work into their lives were interviewed.  We asked them what advice they would give to others.  Much of their advice reinforces the strategies put forth in this book, such as redefining success, making the business case, and taking the lead on your own behalf to find the fit you need.  But many also added, ‘Tell them to just go for it.’  Go for it.  Sounds like something you’d say to someone who’s about to jump off the high dive or climb a mountain for the first time.  What exactly were these people trying to say?

Well, they’ve been in your position—wanting a better work+life fit, but feeling very afraid.  And they know that it feels like a leap into the unknown.  But they also know that once you have a well thought-out proposal, then you have to ‘get past the fear and just do it.’”  (Click here for more, and to print or download the PDF).

Takeaway Action Steps to Challenge Work+Life Fit Fears

#1–Create a solid, well-thought out plan that considers your needs as well as the realities of your job.  And, once implemented, review and adapt regularly.

My experience is that most people don’t do this, for a few reasons:

First, they don’t know how. This is why when I develop a flexibility strategy for companies, one of the keys to successful implementation is giving employees a process that let’s them take the lead and create a work+life fit plan that makes sense not only for them personally, but for their job.

The how-to highlights I’m sharing in this series are from the same Work+Life Fit process that we tailor for our corporate clients.  It is the same process outlined in my book.  Knowing how to partner with your employer to flexibly and strategically manage your work+life fit as personal and work realities change is a skill set that we all need, but that most of us still don’t have.

Second, we expect our manager to come up with a solution. And they can’t. To start, if you need to change your work+life it, chances are your manager has no idea.  He or she can’t read your mind.  And in this environment, they’re probably focused on other issues, so it’s not on their radar screen.  Even if it was, your manager can’t tailor a workable plan for you because he or she doesn’t know your work and personal realities well enough.  Your manager can support the conversation, but you need to start the discussion and present solution.

Third, we think corporate flexible work arrangement policies are the solution. Even with more policies, we’d still need to present a plan and have a discussion.  For years, experts–including me–thought top-down policies outlining the different types of flexibility were the answer.  The truth is even if there is a policy officially sanctioning a certain type of flexibility (e.g. flextime, telecommuting, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks) you can’t simply check a box and expect the arrangement to survive day-to-day reality.

I’ve seen plenty of employers with great flexibility policies and no usage because it’s not supported by process that tailors solutions to the person and the business.  And I’ve seen companies with no policies, but with an inherently flexible way of operating where unique work+life fit solutions are organically created.  The power of a policy is to show what’s possible.  But it’s the work+life fit process that creates a workable plan that’s a sustainable win-win for all parties.

Finally, we think getting a new job that’s more flexible upfront is the answer. Even then, you still need to actively manage and coordinate your work+life fit on an ongoing basis for that flexible job to succeed.

#2–Challenge each fear to determine if it’s based on facts or on assumptions that need to be clarified.

The step-by-step “challenge the fear” process is outlined in the book excerpt above.  There’s also an example of someone following the process and moving beyond a concern that she realized wasn’t valid.

In my experience, approximately 80% of the fears that keep us stuck are based on misunderstandings, misperceptions and a lack of information.  The remaining 20% of concerns, are valid on some level, but in many cases can be addressed.  For those that can’t, you still have choices.

#3–Dig down deep into yourself and find the courage to go for it. You do have the power, as long as you know how.

Challenging the Most Common Work+Life Fit Fears

Fear #1 – They will say “no.” This is the top fear that keeps most people from presenting a plan that adjusts their work+life fit.   The specific ways to challenge this fear are covered in the chapter excerpt above; however, here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Are you a good performer?  If you are, by all means put together a plan, especially if you are getting ready to quit to find a better fit.  I wish I had a dollar for every manager who said to me over the years, “They should have said something before they left.  I would have considered it.”
  • The worst thing that can happen is your manager says “no.”  Then you are back where you started and no worse off.  But my experience is that nine times out of ten, you at least get a fair hearing as long as you have a well-thought out plan.   And if you are really concerned, start out by proposing a relatively small adjustment in your fit, and work your way toward more.

Fear #2 – It will hurt my career. I covered the advancement roadblock yesterday (Day 2), but you have to ask yourself, what happens if you don’t find a better fit?  Are you going to leave?  Will you become so unproductive and unhappy that it begins to hurt your health and/or your performance?  Would finding a better fit actually help your career in the long-run?  How would it benefit your employer?

Fear #3 I will lose my job. In today’s economic reality, I understand the instinct to keep your head down and just work harder, faster and longer. You don’t want to make any wrong moves that put your job in jeopardy.  That being said, your employer benefits from helping you flexibly manage your work+life fit.  You’re more productive.  You’re less distracted.  You’re more creative.  You can provide more coverage.  You’re less stressed.  You stick around.  If you work fewer hours, they save money.  All good stuff that should be front and center in any plan.

While there are always exceptions, my experience has been that if someone with flexibility loses his or her job, it’s not about the flexibility specifically.  It’s either:

  • The individual wasn’t performing overall (I would argue that person shouldn’t have had flexibility in the first place).
  • He or she wasn’t willing or able to adapt the type of flexibility they had to the changing realities of the business.  That’s why it’s so important that any work+life fit plan is a flexible, ongoing dialogue with your manager and not just a box checked on a benefits form.  You want to be in the loop when circumstances change, or
  • There were broader layoffs impacting many people in many different circumstances, including those with flexibility.  But not only those with flexibility.

What are the “Yeah, but…” and “What ifs…” keeping you from flexibly managing your work+life fit in a way that meets your needs and the needs of your job?  Have you challenged your fears?  If yes, what did you do?  If not, why?


Entire “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series:

Day 1: What is Work+Life Fit? / Seeing the Possibilities

Day 2:  Challenge Roadblocks — Redefine Success:  Money and Prestige / Advancement and Caregiving

Day 3:  Challenge Roadblocks — Fear

Day 4:  What Do You Want? / Your Internal Guidance and My Story

Day 5:  Creating Your Work+Life Fit Plan–Making It a Win-Win

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