Who actually decided that almost every task, every job, would fit best into a 40-hour full-time position? Who says that? And who can judge that?
Isn’t that an absolutely crazy assumption? Outdated? Generalized? And, on closer inspection, incredibly inflexible? Doesn’t this (hardly ever questioned) assumption of the ideal 40-hour work week mean that we, as an employer, tend to build in too much capacity for tasks that could be accomplished in a few hours – and far too little for those that clearly require more? Doesn’t it also cause us to force people into a scheme that is not guaranteed to be life-phase-oriented?
Can organizations even transition from being elephants to gazelles when they stick to this very basic thought pattern?
Hardly any progress in our working models
The fact is, our working models have hardly changed since the days of industrialization. Work time has admittedly decreased a little, of course, but in their constancy, their rigidity, and their immobility, the models have remained much as they were 100 or even 150 years ago. We have classic full-time positions (usually the exciting jobs) and classic part-time positions (unfortunately, often the not-so-exciting tasks). In between, there is not very much.
Flexibility is relative
4 out of 5 companies today call themselves flexible. But flexibility is, of course, a tremendously elastic concept. Indeed, when asked, 96% of young parents say that they want more flexibility from their employer, especially in emergencies. And these are “only” the young parents. Think of the many other groups in our society who need more flexibility in certain phases of their lives; for example, for their own projects, further education, honorary posts, their own health, or the care of relatives. How do we push these people into a 40-hour week without significant losses on both sides?
Blow up silos!
The concept of flexibility is relative, and if we are honest, hardly any company will fundamentally address this issue. There’s hardly a company today thinking in terms of areas and budgets instead of fixed positions – and asking applicants and employees about their desired number of hours. But this is what is needed to really get closer to flexibilization, to break down “silos” and “islands” in the company, to build a mosaic of different models and hourly rates, to better plan capacities, to dissolve rigid structures, and to promote a knowledge transfer that actually allows something like “agile” working.
Why is there so little change?
Why do we still have this rigidity – and in whose interest is it? What do we actually need “positions” for? For control? For calculability and plannability? To maintain order, politics? Gathering and coordinating a variety of “atypical employment relationships” (as it is so nicely called in the latter) would certainly be more complex and demanding. But is that a challenge that cannot be tackled, or should not be tackled?
An experiment with a clear outcome
We dared to conduct a little experiment and asked people how many hours a week they would work if they could choose freely. What do you think were the most common answers? 40 hours? 20? Or something in the middle? The average was 25–32 hours. Ask your friends – you’re likely to get the same answers.
We have drawn clear conclusions from this for our organization – and it’s no longer about positions, but rather only areas and budgets. We asked people during the application process what their preferred working time was – and made it possible in every case. If the tasks or areas required more power, we added job-sharing partners or teammates. We have abolished the 40-hour position. None of us works in this model anymore. If we reach exactly 40 weekly hours, it is pure coincidence and due to the fact that the task actually required it.
The “breathing organization”
If we want to create a “breathing organization,” with agile structures and employees who react quickly and capably in the face of change and increasing complexity, then there is a lot to do. And no, not only in small companies like ours. It’s certainly faster and easier; fair enough. But it also needs to happen in big companies! It is precisely there that it’s more necessary than ever to create flexible structures along the value chain: to meet the (digital) transformation, indeed to actively shape it – and, of course, to remain attractive to the talents of tomorrow.
So, let’s ask questions instead of saying “but!” Let’s discuss and think about how things can go!