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January 20, 2009
Flexible Staffing in a Difficult Economy
 
How can employers cut costs while maintaining current staffing levels in a down economy? Some employers have implemented cost reductions by asking employees to reduce hours worked so they can get paid less. This can be accomplished in numerous ways including mandating one week of unpaid time every 6 months, taking 1 day off without pay every 2 weeks or implementing a temporary percentage reduction in salary for a short-time period. For example, last month Dell asked employees to take up to 5 days off without pay during the next 3 months. Although the leave is not mandatory, the company has indicated that layoffs may be necessary if not enough workers participate in this reduction of hours/pay. Probably their rational is that most employees would certainly prefer to lose a week of pay in lieu of their job, and they probably don’t want their co-workers to receive a pink slip either.
 
Flexible work arrangements may be another method to reduce payroll costs. For example, perhaps an employee might want to come in an hour later or leave an hour earlier, a strategy that could lower payroll costs as well as provide more time for life’s responsibilities. Let’s say a working dad has been paying for a before-school program since he needs to start work at 7:30 am, but school begins at 8 am. Perhaps, he could start work at 8:30 am and forgo the costs associated with the before-school program. Also, a reduction in salary might put an employee in a lower tax bracket, saving them additional dollars. Maybe, a full-time employee might want to reduce their work hours by 30% following a draining round of chemotherapy. Or, a grad student who has to take a cab to arrive at their 5:30 pm class on time, could now leave work at 4 pm instead of 5 pm, and take the bus or walk. Of course, it would be important that supervisors and their teams coordinate schedules to insure that the work gets done, and develop new procedures for how to communicate with one another in these different arrangements.

Although everyone can’t afford to or doesn’t want to work less, there are some employees who may be willing to give up income for time. At different points in our lives, we all have responsibilities and/or interests that collide with our jobs. Whether it’s training for a marathon, volunteering at a soup kitchen, caring for an elderly neighbor or coaching a youth soccer team, we might welcome a short term opportunity to get involved with a compelling activity even if it comes with a pay cut.
 
When gas prices were over the top, many employers were implementing 4-day work weeks and embracing telework for a portion or the entire job. Although these arrangements may not save payroll costs, they could impact energy and office costs such as heat or electricity.

With the current economy, now could be the perfect time for employers to experiment with a variety of flexible arrangements. Employers might discover that there are numerous benefits to flexibility regardless of the state of the economy. Cost reductions might be equal to worker performance since research confirms that employees with flexibility can be more productive, loyal and engaged. And even in a down economy, top-notch employees are still tough to find and retain.

For more information about Flexible Work Arrangements, please visit the Sloan Network's resources including
Statistics, Topic Page, Flexibility Case Studies, and Family Friendly Employers.

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Judi Casey has been a work-family expert for the past 15 years and is currently the principal investigator and director of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. Judi is the author, with Jacquelyn James of “Business or Busyness: Strategies for Managing Workload” and with Peggy Chase, of “Creating a Culture of Flexibility: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Make it Work,” from the Center’s Executive Briefing Series.

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