DuPont Puts Flexible Downsizing to Work With Voluntary Unpaid Leave

Delaware’s largest industrial employer is asking its salaried workers to take at least two weeks’ unpaid leave.  75 of the company’s senior leaders announced that they will take three weeks off without pay in response to the current market conditions.  There are a number of reasons to consider initiating this type of voluntary program instead of involuntary layoffs.  According to the article reported by the Wilmington News Journal:Dupont

Employers appear to be favoring voluntary programs, according to a February survey by Watson Wyatt consulting firm. Eleven percent of the 245 U.S.-based companies surveyed have instituted mandatory furloughs, while another 6 percent expect to launch a program in the next 12 months.  By comparison, 10 percent already have had voluntary furloughs and another 9 percent are expected to ask for voluntary furloughs within the next 12 months, the survey said.

A DuPont representative cited the current preference for flexible work schedules as one reason for its decision to initiate the voluntary program.  Another reason was that it made compliance with foreign laws easier than if an involuntary layoff program had been utilized. 

For those of us on the East Coast, where summer is king, now may be an ideal time to consider offering a flexible-downsizing initiative.  If your organization is trying to cut labor costs without having to layoff its valued employees, you may want to think about unpaid leave, voluntary furloughs, and reduced-schedule work week.  If your employees traditionally flock to the beach on Friday afternoons, they may jump at the chance to work a four-day week for 4/5 of their normal pay.  Even a temporary program for the summer months may be enough to enable your organization to stave off unwanted involuntary reductions.

I’ll be conducting an audio conference on layoff alternatives in June for M. Lee Smith Publishers.  Be sure to check out the HR Hero website for lots of resources on employment-law and human-resource topics, including information about voluntary and mandatory furloughs.  Delaware employers can learn more about the legal considerations involved in layoffs at our annual Employment Law Seminar on April 29.  (Learn more about the employment-law seminar here and register for the seminar here).

Utah’s Four-Day Work Week Scores Well

Utah’s four-day work week has been in place for nearly a year and the numbers are in. According to state officials, the energy savings have not materialized but there have been increases in employee productivity and reported worker satisfaction. State planners report the following benefits to the four-day work week:

  • Less overtime hours worked
  • Less leave taken
  • 70% satisfaction

NPR ran an article on the reduced-workweek program. There was no mention in the article about how the “increased productivity” was measured.  But it did include the opinion of one state employee who is not in the 70% of “happy workers.” 

Nicki Lockheart is quoted in the article as saying about the alternative work schedule, “I hate it.”  “A 10-hour day for me is like eternity,” she says.

By the time the customer service agent gets home and eats dinner, she says, it’s time for bed. By Friday, Lockhart is so stressed out, she gets headaches. 

Gov. Huntsman will decide whether the pilot program goes permanent later this summer. 

Previous Posts on the Four-Day Work Week:

  • The Pros and Cons of a 4-Day Workweek: Cons
  • Feds Take a Cue from the States and Consider the 4-Day Workweek
  • 35 Questions You Should Ask When Drafting a Compressed Work Week Policy
  • Positive Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week
  • 5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace
  • Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*
  • It’s Saturday Today in Utah: 4 Day Work Week
  • Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week
  • Looking a Flexible-Schedule Gift Horse in the Mouth

    Flexible schedules is a topic of particular interest to me, in some part, because I am the grateful beneficiary of one.   I commend employers, including my own, who have made the enlightened and informed decision to offer this benefit.  It’s a decision that I firmly believe will pay dividends in employee loyalty and ultimately save the employer money on hiring, retraining, etc.calendar and clock

    Raising happy, healthy, adjusted children is the responsibility of our entire population, and the burden of doing so should not rest on the mother’s shoulders alone. However, the United States, unlike other industrialized nations, has little legislation to promote this ideal. Absent the FMLA, permitting new parents 12 weeks (unpaid) to bond with their children, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prevents employers from discriminating against women on the basis of their pregnancy, accommodations or benefits to assist new mothers in balancing their work and families are left largely to the employer’s discretion.

    WorkLife Law has advocated aggressively and effectively on behalf of working mothers, suggesting litigation through existing statutes where possible to remedy inequities with respect to mothers in the workplace. In part due to their efforts, the EEOC issued its guidance on Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities , which helped to focus employers and EEOC investigators on subtle biases about the commitment of working mothers to their job responsibilities, that may result in actionable discrimination cases.

    A recent “Employer Alert” from WorkLife Law, however, has taken it too far, suggesting the following:

    Continue reading

    Why Flexible Downsizing Is a Win-Win Initiative

    The four-day work week is very popular among public employers these days.  Employers who have implemented a compressed work week program successfully say they’ve enjoyed benefits such as saved energy costs, decreased absenteeism, and improved employee morale resulting from the change. 

    I don’t believe that a four-day work week is the solution of all solutions, as some have claimed.  But I do believe that there are certain organizations that, because of their structure and purpose, can be good models for the program.  The ideal candidates, though, are almost always government employers.  A mandatory four-day work week, generally, is not realistic in the private sector. image

    But does that general proposition lose its vigor in a bad economy?  Can the four-day work week be implemented in the private sector more effectively because of the downturn?  It turns out that flexible schedules can have important benefits in an economic downtime, just as they can in times of fiscal health.  The trick, though, is to get employers to be aware of the opportunities.  

    Fast Company blogger, Cali Yost, has an ongoing series of posts about the benefits of “flexible downsizing” and why employers are better suited to consider this option as opposed to layoffs.  In a recent post, she explains:

    There are creative, cost-effective ways to use strategic work+life flexibility to reduce labor costs while remaining connected to valuable talent. These options include reduced schedules, job sharing, sabbaticals, and contract workers.

    In a recent interview with Penn professor and author, Dr. Peter Capelli, Yost questioned why more employers aren’t taking advantage of the benefits that can be derived from a flexible-downsizing initiative.  Most employers, said Capelli, are too short-sighted, focusing only on short-term cuts instead of the longer term savings to be had.  Capelli asserts that it is cheaper to retain an employee at  5% reduction in pay than to layoff 5% of the workforce because “there are no severance packages; the legal liability and associated costs are much less; and the savings come instantly without the agonizing administrative process of figuring out who has to go…”.

    Flexible downsizing is also a valuable option when employers are trying desperately to avoid layoffs–at the cost of the fiscal health of the organization.  These companies are so pained by the thought of laying off personnel that they avoid doing so to the extent that it actually results in more layoffs in the long-term.  Alternatives such as voluntary, across-the-board pay cuts, reduced-hour schedules, and furloughs of even a few weeks can mean the difference between voluntary, and relatively minor, cut-backs now and involuntary and severe cut-backs later. 

    Why the Four-Day Work Week Should Not Be Considered a “Flexible Schedule”

    The four-day work week is touted as a way for employers to offer employees a more flexible schedule.  The demand for flexible and alternative schedules continues to grow.  There are a number of reasons for this increased demand.  The influx of Generation Y workers has played a role, for one.  Also, the increased focus on work-life balance mandates the need for flexible scheduling.  And, as the workplace becomes more and more mobile, the need for office workers to actually work from the office continues to diminish.   Flexible Work Schedule Hourglass and planner

    There are many ways in which employers can implement flexible-schedule programs.  When done right, these programs can act as ways to recruit the best candidates and retain the best employees.  But not all flexible workplace programs are created equally.  And, in my opinion, one of the most hyped offerings, the four-day work week, doesn’t meet the criteria at all.  In a short post for the Sloan Work and Family Research Network, I write about Why the Four-Day Work Week Would Be the Death of the Flexible-Schedule Initiative.  In the post, I address some of the reasons why I think the four-day work schedule cannot, by definition, classify as a “flexible work schedule.” 

    Why Telecommuting Could Be the Answer to My Cookie Prayers

    In Delaware, courts take a holiday on December 26.  Accordingly, most law firms are closed for the day, including ours.  And, not surprisingly, many Delaware lawyers will work anyway.  Duty calls. 

    Is there a way to accomplish those important work tasks without having to sacrifice family time?  Enter telecommuting. image

    Technically speaking, telecommuting is one of many flexible work initiatives.  A telecommuter works from home full-time or several days out of the work week.  Telework or telecommuting involves work that normally would have been performed from a central office setting but can now be performed at home or remote location.  Telework requires the use a computer, an internet connection, telephone, scanner, and, perhaps, a fax machine. 

    Telecommuting is an employment arrangement that involves moving work to the workers instead of workers to work.

    Proponents of telecommuting claim (with good support), that efficiently run programs can offer employers the following benefits:

    • Cost Savings through the reduction of overhead and fixed costs, such as rent.

    • Increased Productivity of 10-40%, due in part to the absence of typical office interruptions.

    • Improved Motivation of employees who see the program as a sign of trust and confidence.

    • Skills Retention when an employee who would otherwise leave the workplace is able to stay. Includes employees on maternity leave, whose families move out of the area, whose disability prevents them from working in the standard office set-up, or who are nearing retirement but who the employer wants to retain as long as possible.

    • Organization Flexibility is substantially improved. Teams can be created without consideration for geography or the need for travel. 

    • Flexible Staffing by reducing the number of hours worked to those with the highest demand.

    • External disruptions, such as natural disasters, inclement weather, traffic problems, and even security issues, have a lesser impact on the organization’s ability to operate at a fully functional level.

    • Enhanced Customer Service, which can be extended beyond the working day or the working week without the costs of overtime payments or the need for staff to work non-traditional business hours.

    Each of these claimed benefits have at least some legitimacy.  Although telework may not be appropriate for every type of job or every type of workplace, it certainly seems to be attractive on a day like today when there’s no need to be in the office and when my mother-in-law’s cookies are guaranteed to be gone before lunch!

    For more information on telecommuting or other flexible work schedules, be sure to see the Working TIme category, under Telecommuting.

    Developments in Work-Family Issues

    Flexible work schedules are continually becoming one of the most demanded employment benefits.  Life Meets Work is an organization that promotes flexible work schedules and alternative work arrangements. The organization is currently conducting its first annual survey on the topic of work-life balance. karen_juggler

    The goal of the survey, called Flexing, Floundering, or ‘Just Fine Thanks’: Work/Life Issues in America, is to capture the opinions of Americans challenges in balancing work and life, the role of government in work-life initiatives, and flexible work programs. Life Meets Work also wants to hear about the flex programs, and work-life initiatives from an employer’s perspective.

    Whether you’re working parent, stay-at-home mom, business owner or human resources executive, Life Meets Work want to hear from you. The survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Your responses are confidential.

    The results of the study, along with a corresponding white paper, will be presented on a free Webinar, appropriately titled after the survey,  on October 28, 2008.