Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Thirty Hour Solution

Someday, someone is going to steal this idea and make history with it.  Alas, I’m not in a position to do that myself.  So I’ll put it out there and hope someone with means sees it.

Most jobs now are either severely part-time or entirely full-time.  Generally, the part-time jobs pay far less, proportionately, than full-time jobs do.  That’s particularly true if you go beyond dollars per hour and look at benefits.  The distinction holds across industries, and people have been forced to make life choices based on the limited set of options that exists.  The assumption is that you are either fully on board or you are just passing through.  

Once in a while, though -- often through grant-funded programs -- we’re able to post a staff job with benefits that requires, say, thirty hours a week at a reduced but proportionate salary.  It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens.  You know what happens when we post a job like that?

We get the strongest applicant pools EVER.  We have hired unbelievable people that way.  

It’s almost as if people’s preferences come in more than two flavors.  Who knew?

The thirty-hour-a-week model, or thereabouts, appeals to a surprisingly huge set of well qualified people.  Some of them are parents -- usually women, but not always -- who have children in school and want to be home when they’re home.  Some of them are working on graduate degrees, and appreciate having the ability to both support themselves and get academic work done.  Some of them have side projects, whether artistic or entrepreneurial.  Whatever the reason, I’ve had some remarkable high performers in these roles tell me point-blank that they would not even have applied if it had been posted as full-time.

As a value proposition for an employer, this strikes me as a largely ignored opportunity.  There’s a large, highly talented pool of people eager to work for lower-than-full salaries.  As a manager, I can’t help but see this as a potential way to make real progress.

That’s not to say that all is sweetness and light.  Equity around things like paid holidays, personal days, and snow days can get awkward.  Scheduling meetings can be a challenge when people have different workweeks.  During crunch times, sometimes you need more than a ¾ position.  And the optics of someone leaving early on a regular basis, or not coming in on Fridays, can rub some people the wrong way.  (“Optical Rubbing” would be a great name for a band, come to think of it.)

But those all strike me as minor, compared to the value proposition to the employer of a high performer happily and gratefully doing great work for a lower salary.  And if it means that people are able to lead balanced and sustainable lives, all the better.

The major obstacle I can see to what seems otherwise like an obvious win is that it may make it harder to maintain the distinction between jobs with benefits and jobs without.  In a more rational system -- cough single payer cough -- that wouldn’t matter so much.  But in the system we have, it’s an issue.  

I’m not sure that’s a fatal objection, though.  Given the caliber of people eager for thirty-ish hour positions, the business case -- not to mention the “decent human being” case from recognizing the needs of, say, parents -- for more thirty-ish hour jobs seems strong.

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think?  Is there some major obstacle I’m not seeing, or is this a potential growth area?