I once represented a group of emergency room doctors in contract negotiation with a national emergency room service provider. The doctors loved their work partly because it was predictable in terms of hours – they worked shifts. The key to that predictability was communication. When one doctor’s shift was ending, she made sure that she would communicate her patients’ statuses to the doctor on the next shift, which allowed her to fully enjoy her time off from work.
Unlike those emergency doctors that I once represented, most professionals and managers today work long and unpredictable hours. As a result of the internet and cell phones, managers today find themselves working at any time. While technology has freed many from having to show up at a brick and mortar office, it has made controlling one’s work schedule very difficult. Also, many professionals’ and managers’ jobs concern international matters and require work across time zones. For someone seeking work life balance for any number of reasons, such as being a good parent, spouse and human being, this unpredictability has meant that many of the best and brightest are opting out. It’s also not surprising that managers and professionals today are more likely to have problems with substance abuse or extreme stress. Some employers have responded to this problem by offering managers flexible work arrangements. However, the burden is generally on the employee to ask for such an arrangement. Many employees believe that requesting a flexible work arrangement could brand the employee as a second class citizen and will ultimately result in fewer opportunities and promotions and less compensation. In contrast, the emergency doctors that I represented did not worry about missing out because they were all in the same boat and they were all expected to take the same amount of time off.
What if companies and firms made flexible work mandatory for all? What if everyone was given a “shift” to work and knew that otherwise, they were not to respond to the constant emails or calls, but rather could rely upon their “shift relief” to answer? Would the result be a more fair workplace for all with equality in opportunity and compensation?
If an employer wanted to implement the “shift plan” for all professionals and managers, what would be important for success of that plan? For one thing, as with my emergency room doctors, good communication would be needed. The professionals and managers would need to communicate the status of matters clearly so nothing was lost in the change of shifts. Customers and clients would need to understand the process and how to communicate with the company or firm to help make this program work.
Is anyone bold enough to make this move? For those who say that their business or profession just does not work in such an arrangement, ask yourself how the present system is working for you. Has your company lost talent because employees thought they had to choose between working more or becoming second class citizens in your organization? Are the employees who work round the clock really that effective or are they undermined by personal stresses and possibly substance abuse? Is it time for employers to consider flexible work arrangements on a wider scale?