With a front page article in this week's New York Times, the use of work+life flexibility as an alternative to layoffs continues to gain momentum. However, as I noted last week, four-day workweeks, reduced schedules, sabbaticals, telecommuting and flexible scheduling are not just isolated, downsizing tactics. They are part of a broad, coordinated growth and cost-cutting business strategy with multiple benefits that include, but are not limited to, creative downsizing. We are missing an important opportunity by not discussing flexibility in this larger context.
Since August 2008, I have written (here, here, here, and here) and spoken (here), about work+life flexibility as critical strategy that allows organizations and individuals to rapidly and flexibly adapt to challenges that are presenting themselves at an accelerated rate.
In fact, the findings from the September, 2008 CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility that we conducted with BDO Seidman, LLP were some of the earliest results to confirm that CFOs—the financial leaders in organizations—view flexibility as a strategic lever with a broad range of business impacts. And, approximately one-quarter were ahead of the curve by incorporating different forms of flexibility in past downsizing strategies.
Why does this matter? Because today we are grappling with how to respond to the recession, but after that, it will be something else. Using strategic flexibility to rethink the way work is done, life is managed and business succeeds will help us not only survive, but thrive in an environment where change will be the only constant. But we won't be able to use work+life flexibility as a business growth and cost-cutting strategy to respond to these changes if we don't see the possibilities.
My hope for the New Year is that we pull back the lens, connect the dots and begin to understand the other potential business and individual benefits of strategic flexibility. In the meantime, let's at least celebrate the tactical use of flexibility to help people keep their jobs.
One final note, these are difficult times, but if you read the comments posted in response to The New York Times article, many people see silver linings of flexible downsizing beyond lost wages. They talk about the shared sacrifice in difficult circumstances, and more time for their personal lives. That’s an example of flexibly redefining "success," which is another aspect of flexibility that’s even more important today.
Note: Here's an interesting historical perspective on "voluntary reduced work time" from Kathie Lingle's Work-Life blog.