Researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University and Montreal’s McGill University report that more and more large North American corporations are offering their employees shortened and flexible work hours without jeopardizing those employees’ chances of future promotion and success.
Many women and men struggle to balance their work responsibilities, family obligations, outside interests, and commuting time, resulting in fatigue, illness, perpetual guilt, and general job dissatisfaction.
Researchers followed 87 corporate professionals and managers who have voluntarily chosen to work less than full time at reduced wages in order to spend more time on outside obligations and interests. The average age of the research participants was 39, and the majority were women and men who wanted to spend more time with their children. Results revealed that the careers of these employees did indeed suffer, but not as much as researchers had originally anticipated. In fact, nearly 35 percent were promoted during the two-year study.
Perhaps the most encouraging finding was that reduced hours led to improved workplace performance. “We had a substantial number of cases where both the boss and the worker thought that performance had improved,” said Purdue Center for Families director and associate professor of child development and family studies, Shelly MacDermid. “Certainly performance per unit time, but sometimes even overall performance was better. They were actually getting as much or more done working fewer hours.”
Still, a study conducted last fall by the research group Catalyst revealed that most companies do not offer the option of part-time work, and judge employees’ worth by the sheer number of hours worked. Candi Lange, director of work force partnering initiatives for the Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly, said that companies will soon be forced to change or lose valuable employees who will be snatched up by the competition. Lilly noted that 200 of her company’s 14,000 U.S. employees are currently working on specialized schedules. “For the manager to say, ‘Do this and everything else has to take second place,’ is no longer realistic given the needs of the current work force,” Lange said. “I think to be able to meet these real needs of the workplace, companies will have to become flexible.”