I think we’ve all seen how much the overall demographic picture of the American labor force has shifter over the past few decades. Have you maximized your organizational structure to take full advantage of it, or have you simply “adapted and adjusted” to it as you’ve faced the challenges, and now find yourself with a reactive, rather than a strategic workforce design?
There was a time not long ago, when the “baby boomer bulge” was working its way through the workforce, and that supply — having enough people in the right jobs at the right time— was not a real issue. I once worked with a traditional manufacturing company in New England that actually had 3rd generation machine operators in production. These workers career goal was to stay their 20 years and get a pension, and then turn their actual job over to their son/daughter, who would begin the cycle again! Along came the Gen X and Gen-Y generations — and they wanted no part of it! Needless to say, that company was bought up by a holding company, and manufacturing operations were sent off shore.
But there are options available to the progressive employer today. As consultants, we have seen a number of creative models for dealing with skill and workforce mismatches, and they don’t all mean loss of jobs to overseas operations. The following are just a few examples of best practices in creative workforce solutions that may have applicability in your own business operation:
- Creative Shift Scheduling: I know of a global computer chip manufacturer that has swung most of their US manufacturing operations to limited work weeks/longer days. The workers put in 3 12 hour days in one week, get 4 days off, then follow up with 4, 9 hour days the following week, for a total 2 week shift of 72 instead of the usual 80. Not only is productivity the same or higher than in their “traditionally scheduled” plants, but turnover is less.
- Flex Hours/Flex Place: The more employers can be flexible with daily work schedules, the easier they find it is to hire and maintain the younger workers today, who often resist the structure of routine and traditional work hours. In addition, the tools and technology that have become available over the past decade allow the information worker of today to operate from almost anywhere. I have coached innumerable change initiatives that have been designed to allow office workers at all levels to work part or most of the time remotely. I’ve often encountered the initial fearful suspicion of managers that assume that the hours won’t be put in and productivity will drop. When systems have been put in place to monitor/measure output and productivity, instead of hours on the clock, I’ve rarely seen it fail. After all, does it really matter exactly how many hours the employee is spent on your task, as long as they are meeting or exceeding output expectations?
- Outsource Select Portions of Work Process: Many managers tend to have an “all or nothing” view of outsourcing, but that often leads to not only radical workflow disruption, but also often times to disappointment. Companies that have done a strategic workflow analysis of their entire operation have often found it beneficial to contract out only those select portions that make the most sense, perhaps those requiring highly specialized skills or technology, or even more commonly, those that are not “core” portions of the company’s business, but are none the less tedious and burdensome. There are many creative solutions to be found in this area.
- Job Sharing: At a time of high unemployment such as the last few years have shown, a growing number of firms have begun to manage more to “full-time equivalents” rather than single full-time employees. This can have the added advantage of reducing labor costs involved in overtime and fringe benefits.
Perhaps one of the areas most often overlooked even as it grows in numbers is the older labor force. The economic downturn has pushed many of the baby-boomer generation into early retirement — and not all of them intend to return to the full time labor force. While many inhibitions and even prejudices exist around hiring older workers, (they won’t work as hard at a reduced salary, they’ll quit as soon as a better thing comes along), that is not always the case, and can usually be screened for during the vetting process. And many of them are more than willing to take on part time or contingent roles. In the meantime, a company gains the deep experience and often leadership capabilities of the seasoned veteran. Not only will this strategy help stem the hemorrhage of institutional knowledge loss the plagues many firms, but the well managed and motivated older worker can truly expedite the growth and development of the younger workforce.
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