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The Drive to Downshifting

September 27, 2001
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Featured Article
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Susan Sweet, who handles retention, work redesign, and work-reduction issues for Ernst & Young, has had some experience with cutting back on job hours. After having a baby in 1998, she reduced her work schedule 25 percent. Now, she has chosen to work 90 percent of her original schedule so that she can spend Fridays with her child.

"Cutting back has become an important part of the way people are doing business these days," Sweet says. "We would always rather have a portion of someone's time than lose them altogether." In 1999, 691 Ernst & Young employees were on reduced work schedules. By 2001, 1,002 were -- a 45 percent increase.

John Drake, cofounder of the world's largest HR consulting firm, Drake Beam Morin, has long championed the concept he calls "downshifting." In 1980, about a dozen years after he started the company, he downshifted himself. He has since opened up two small businesses in Maine and written a new book, Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More (Berrett-Koehler, 2001).

A recent study conducted by Rutgers University and the University of Connecticut reveals that 90 percent of working adults are concerned that they aren't spending enough time with their families. The Work in America Institute, one of the major workplace research groups in the HR field, has spent a quarter century focusing on improving productivity and work/life balance. It is now going to tackle downshifting. "There's got to be a way for employers to have people cut back without penalizing them," says Jill Casner-Lotto, vice president of policy studies.

Employers that are willing to let employees work fewer hours should put out the word that it will help -- not hurt -- the employee's value to the company. And in a slow economy, it's good business sense, because it can cut down on payroll costs, boost morale, and reduce absences.

Marriott International, which has been among the leaders in work/life programs, is offering employees an opportunity to work 32 hours a week instead of 40. Patty Cassidy, Marriott's director of workplace strategies, says the decision stems from the company's need for a recruiting edge.

"People want more time," Cassidy says. "They are fighting for their personal lives. And we're ahead of the game. A lot of companies are still floundering...but we're doing it."

Workforce, October 2001, p. 23 -- Subscribe Now!

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