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HR=Humans Represent: So What Exactly Is The Recession Good For?


Can it really be? A benefit coming out of the recession? It seems so, as the recession some claim is accelerating a change (at least in the corporate world) toward more flexible work schedules. Currently, one of five Americans works non-typical work hours (nights, weekends, rotating shifts, etc). With the recession still in force, experts say one of the results is that businesses will permit more and more employees to adapt their work hours to their own personal preference, based upon their position, and their own personal life needs.

If you are wondering how exactly the recession will do this – think about how flexible schedules have been becoming more acceptable in the past few years. Then, think about the U.S. economy – we are becoming less reliant on manufacturing (assembly line work requires everyone working at the same time), and more dependent on knowledge-based industries (law, IT, marketing, finance, etc). These knowledge-based jobs can easily be done at 4:00am, and without co-workers sitting next to you. Also, the continual globalization of the economy is making the standard start and end times to the workday much more varied – it may be 11:00 pm here, but it’s 10:00 am across the world when your customer is working.

Sounds great being able to set your own hours, right? Sure, but it’s not for everybody. Experts say only a certain type of person will thrive in this work environment. If you are a Type A personality who is focused on meeting deadlines and delivering on commitments, then this agreement is perfect. As from a management standpoint, it does require more follow up – something for managers to also consider before entering into such an agreement.

The 9-to-5 workday has gradually evolved over time – and out of the recession ashes, emerges a new workday schedule which may quickly become the norm rather than the exception. I suspect it will not be long before government jobs follow this increasingly popular trend. Thanks recession!!

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Profile Photo Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Tricia, I’m not sure I’m seeing the cause and effect relationship between the recession and flexible work schedules. I get that we’re no longer an economy based on manufacturing and more based on an information industry, but it seems to me that things were already moving in this direction without the recession. In fact your title called to mind the lyrics of a Vietnam-era song: “War! What is it good for?! Absolutely nothing!” I’d say the same about the recession.

Profile Photo Tricia

Jay,

Thanks for the comment and sharing your viewpoint – which I totally get. First, I am surprised anyone read the blog, as being the GovLoop featured blogger on Mondays, and yesterday a Federal holiday I wasn’t really expecting any response.

When I intially read about how people were saying the recession is accelerating a shift in work hours, I was intrigued. Working in Government at the state level (or at least at my agency), I have noticed somewhat of a shift but didn’t really think about why this was (other than my hopes that state Government was slowing catching up with private sector practices – this is certainly another reason, and one that is probably more likely why our agency is chaning their views.

Over two years ago, the Governor placed a hiring freeze for state workers. My agency hasn’t been big on telecommuting or alternative work hours, but this seems to be changing slightly. For instance, in the last year we have had a little over 40 people retire. That’s 40 positions left unfilled. Add to this the layoffs/RIF’s we have had to do, and there’s less people having to do more work. We have to work much harder to retain employees these days — otherwise we couldn’t protect public health and the environment without people to get the job done.

I’ve noticed managers being more flexible with their employees, especially in the last year – positions are now being permitted to work 1/2 time (we had hardly any employees that worked less than 40 hours) split hours (so that they can attend university classes, which was unheard of prior), late start times, and even allowing employees to work out of state to care for aging parents(which we really didn’t do prior either).

I agree that as a nation we are already moving in the direction of flexible work hours, but I think there definately is some truth to the recession accelerating it – at least from my experience. I don’t feel my agency would have been willing to even consider such requests (few were ever approved) had it not been for a need for retaining employees.

Profile Photo Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Tricia, your explanation definitely fills in some gaps. The recession, however, still seems to be an indirect contributor. From your personal experience it’s really an aging and/or retiring employee base (granted, without the opportunity to backfill positions) that is causing management to rethink flexible work schedules and non-traditional employment arrangements. It reminds me of something I read recently in defense of tele-work… government needs to stop worrying about where work gets done and concern itself with what gets done.

Profile Photo Tricia

Jay –

It’s also a need to keep our employees (we’re much more willing these days to work with our mid-career individuals and new career employees (especially those who are highly-skilled). I’ve noticed a trend the last 3-4 yrs. that older workers are hanging on to their jobs longer these days, their not wanting to retire, and actually want to maintain their fulltime 40 hr/wk status (which I’m sure is related to their pension calculation). I wish we were more willing to work with those who want to telecommute, but this does not seem to be the case. I agree, with your statement that “government (all employers, really) needs to stop worrying about where work gets done and concern itself with what gets done.

Profile Photo David Dejewski

Tricia, This is an excellent post. Thank you.
Jay, I also appreciate your challenge.

For my part, I believe that challenge is the mother of invention. The recession represents to me, a fundamental shift (or series of shifts) in supply and demand. These shifts have cause a good bit of chaos, uncertainty, and opportunity (for those who know how to find it).

The recession is great for causing us all to slow down a bit and re-evaluating how we define “effective” and how we define “good.” When people are concerned for lack of resources, they get creative. Telework, for example, has never really been a viable (or as viable) as a tool before. Technology has come a long way and expectations have shifted – in part because of demographic changes, and in part because of economic (and frankly morality) changes.

Maybe there is more to life than working like we’re possessed. Maybe there is a better way to accomplish more without adding stress to our lives and to the lives of the ones we love. Maybe what we used to value really isn’t all the valuable. What is really valuable?

The recession gives us pause to ask questions like these. To the extent that things like telework contribute to the answer, I believe we will see more of it.

Profile Photo Gary Berg-Cross

I agree that like war recessions are not events to look forward to. Some lose a career and others may lose their homes, move in with relatives or wind up on the street.

But there is some adaptation that may be encouraged if not forced. You mentioned more flexible work. That is an adaptation that may be recognized as having value.

But with excess capacity there isn’t enough demand to keep all of us employed and increased productivity lowers employment unless the talent is directed to other demands.

And as was suggestged older workers, for example, may hang on to their jobs longer in fear. But if they do “retire” early they make some space for younger workers. We’d need something to handle that fear and move them to productive things. I’m not sure that this is a dominant trend.

What one would like is to have more employment that address problems we recognize in society that aren’t being solved. More efficient high speed trains is one example. Cleaner environments are another. But such a shift seems to be glacial in our society.