A New Frontier of Work-Life Flexibility
The pandemic reignited the debate surrounding the need for society to visualize a new world of work. Empathy for people’s exhaustion is driving C-suite discussions on alternatives to the five-day, 40+-hour week.
In response, the California state legislature which represents the world’s fifth-largest economy introduced legislation that would mandate a 4-day work week for large employers. The proposal received strong pushback, as businesses viewed it as a lack of situational awareness of economic challenges which require an “all hands on deck” approach in a world disrupted by war, staffing shortfalls, and the pandemic. Semiconductor shortages add another layer of complexity for tech and car companies with a large presence in the Golden State. Last week, the Wall Street Journal joined the California Chamber’s outcry by eviscerating the general concept highlighting total cost of goods, employee compensation, and customer service.
I spent my career in public policy and business trying to square the circle between society’s desires, basic needs, and profitability. One size fits all solutions rarely work when a business tries to meet real-time needs and individuals manage life challenges and I believe that, fundamentally, the 4-day work week doesn’t quite hit the mark.
For example, working fewer hours will not address the underlying cause of employee stress points—medical, education, childcare. As working parents will have an even more difficult time scheduling the medical care they need. Doctors, too, will likely face employee pressure to match the mandate.
I propose we instead are given the flexibility to rework our lives so we can maximize every one of the 168 hours of the week for our families, selves, and workplaces.
I outline a four-step technique for thinking creatively in my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South. I applied my method to identify innovative approaches for revisioning how we live, work, and play and provide a framework to think differently.
Step 1: Visualize the Future—don’t fix what is there; start from scratch
Rather than simply adapting what isn’t working – the cookie-cutter five-day workweek – let’s start over, rather than just cut it to four days. Assume there are no rules. Build a future that allows each one of us to maximize our 168 hours per week for our families, ourselves, and employers.
Step 2: Break Down the Present—ditch what isn’t working. Keep what is.
Let’s take this opportunity to reimagine all aspects of our lives! We can identify and remove barriers to high-performing, flexible models of work and life. Let’s identify partners that enable us to achieve our objectives quickly and cost-efficiently by tapping into the talent of all ages. We can design community-based educational models which combine independent learning, mentoring, learning styles, and socialization. We can start by simply highlighting what has some “give”: business policies, government rules, social norms, education system, local laws, tax codes, and intergenerational programming.
If you want to reduce time on the job, even filling out less paperwork can be a game-changer for education administrators, insurance companies, and manufacturers.
Step 3: Create a path to your future—map out critical decisions and actions needed
Here’s some food for thought. Rather than focus on days or hours, perhaps we consider establishing standards-based criteria for product innovation, job performance, health, and wellness optimization, and academic achievement. And we can prioritize medical solutions—therapies, testing, primary care, specialty care–which are easy for the patients to incorporate into their lives during times that work best for them. We could build a multi-year timeline that has activation stages based on the technological innovations required to meet your ultimate objectives.
Step 4: Execute with confidence and diplomacy—speed up by partnering well with others
Wholesale change is not a linear process, but a long-term plan with objectives and milestones. New ideas and community concepts will evolve. Along the way, test the theory through flexible economic zones that attract people interested in pushing boundaries. Creative collaborators with an expansive mindset will apply.
We don’t even have to transform an entire region from the start, but instead, enable communities to compete on flexibility and prosperity. After all, we must start somewhere.
Written by Lisa Gable.
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